Duffy’s is down near the port in Tacoma, and let’s just say the neighbourhood isn’t one where talking to strangers is encouraged. If you’re lucky all they want is a smoke or some money. I’d just come out of the diner when he tagged me.
“I hate to bother you, but I have something important to ask.” The voice sounded like something from an old speech synthesizer, right down to the cheesy Norwegian accent.
I turned and found myself staring at a black metallic man. He was huge, like nine feet tall, and smelled of motor oil and unburnt gasoline. Honestly he reminded me of junk I’d seen lying around on my grandparents’ farm when I was little.
“You are K. Gunderson, correct?”
And he knew my name. That’s never a good sign. “That’s me. Kay Gunderson, unemployed genius.” My creditors had finally located my office, which I’d found padlocked this morning. That’s why I was at Duffy’s, getting a bit of carbohydrate consolation.
“Doctor Annihilus needs you.”
I started to run but a huge hand enveloped my torso. The world dissolved in a haze of smoke, noise and motor oil. By the time I got my bearings Tacoma was a city of ants fading into the distance while the ocean rolled away steadily beneath me.
I banged on his arm a couple of times and tried to get his attention, but tin man’s vocabulary seemed to have been used up. Given my total lack of other options, I went along for the ride.
The hour-long flight was kind of uneventful. We eventually swooped in and landed on a jungle-covered island where the only sign of civilization was a chateau that screamed James Bond. I was carried into a mostly-empty living quarters slash meeting room.
“Karl!” The man addressing me had once been thin, but in the advancing years had morphed him into ‘cadaverous’. He was wearing a Chinese robe like the bad guy from an old movie serial, and cackled as he hobbled toward me. “You haven’t changed a bit!” When he got near I was almost bowled over by the smell of formaldehyde.
“I’m not Karl, my name is Kay. Karl was my great-grandfather; he died back in the fifties.” People say I kind of look like him: short, skinny, glasses from the bottom of a mason jar. From the pictures I’ve seen I can’t disagree. I’m female, but let’s just say parts of that photo need developing.
“Yes, yes. Whatever you choose to call yourself. The important thing is that the hibernatorium worked. I have slept for the last sixty years. I am sure technology has advanced, and you my old friend, are at its vanguard! Are you ready to return to the masterwork, Karl?”
“What masterwork?” Apparently the old fart had gone senile; not unexpected, given he looked about 150 and had just woken up from a sixty year nap.
“You must update and upgrade my robot army so they will be ready to dominate the world!”
“I must, must I? Look grandpa, I’m...” Unemployed. Bankrupt. Destitute. “...ready to start. Where’s my workshop?”
And that was it. Doctor Annihilus might have been old and crazy, but he was true to his word. He had a World War II era hyper-advanced robotics lab and a huge resource base. My job was to redesign his robotic horde so it would strike terror in the twenty-first century.
A lot of the improvements were straightforward. Steel was replaced with carbon fiber and polymer composites, mechanical actuators with electronics, and vacuum tubes with chips and devices looted from discarded smartphones. Power sources were upgraded from enhanced combustion to pocket nukes, and the weaponry went from guns and bombs to missiles and lasers. The new model was lighter, faster, stronger, and better armed, with a brain that was every bit as smart as most people.
After a couple of weeks Doc left me to my own devices. That’s when I started working on the design. Big clunky metal men were out; human-sized robots were far creepier. I kept with the basic black and chrome motif, but reduced the height from nine feet to five and a half. In fact I used myself as the image template, so they looked like cartoonized versions of me, right down to the oversized round eyes that resembled my glasses.
It took almost eleven months, but eventually I was ready for the big reveal. I’d skipped the prototype phase and gone straight to mass production, so I had nearly a thousand robots ready to unveil for Doctor A.
To say it didn’t go well would be an understatement. He looked out across the sea of slaves and snorted.
“Very pretty, Karl, but where are my robots?”
“These are your robots, Doc.”
“These are not my robots! This is nothing but an array of toys!” He waved his hand dismissively. “The requirement for striking fear into the hearts of a nation is to be MENACING! These things are not menacing! They will not intimidate ANYONE! They look like domestic servants! You have gravely disappointed me, Karl!”
“Look, Doc, this is the sort of thing that people are intimidated by now. You don’t have to be a linebacker to intimidate people; you have to be psychologically...”
“Bah! Do not try to lecture me about intimidation, Karl! I was planning world domination before you were born! I knew it was a mistake to trust you! You’re just like my other minions; as soon as I let you out of my sight you get ideas that make no sense! These toys are a total waste! YOU are a total waste!”
I couldn’t decide whether to curl up in a ball or slug the old bastard. I’d done my best, poured out my passion and my sweat. Now he was telling me that it was all a waste. This sort of reaction was why I hadn’t spoken with my parents in five years.
“Now, Karl, since you can’t follow instructions I will take matters into my own hands. You will tear these worthless pieces of junk apart and build proper robots under my direct supervision.”
Something inside me snapped.
Venom dripped from my words. “I have another idea, Doc.” I looked out at my creations and remembered who they were programmed to obey. “Robots! Put Doctor Annihilus back into hibernation.”
And that’s how I ended up being the proud owner of an army of killer robots.