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January 1, 2011
The war for Tobold's planet began and ended as the sky exploded like a month of sunrises and turned from blues and yellows to violets and poisonous greens. A second sun appeared. Seconds later, the gravity wave hit the planet, bending the trees, shaking the ground. Ryder's instruments glitched as the magnetic fields swirling outward from the imploding FTL drive. He de-energized to preserve his powercell. Life or death uncertain, he'd know in a few minutes if this metal body could protect him.
The shadow of a Tobald warrior advanced toward him, gun in hand.
"You anxious to meet Death, Tobald?" Ryder metal voice snarled.
"You will die first, Praetorian."
"Arrogant fool. Can't you see the Eye of Death up there, in the sky? It's going to reach down and burn you unless you hide." The Tobald aimed his weapon and pulled the trigger. The gun sputtered, whined and cycled to a failure.
"What sort of earth garbage is this?" the Tobald's voice hissed. The ionization from the magnetic storms crackled and snapped around them.
"When you burn the heart of a sky warrior, it burns the planet. Your rocket destroyed the battleship's shell but the heart of the battleship, the FTL, is imploding."
"And so you curl up to die."
"And so I curl up to live. Go hide. Go burrow deep underground lizard." Ryder deployed his armor and curled into a ball like an old-earth armadillo. The Tobold picked up his gun and tried to fire it again. Plasma flames erupted up his arm and engulfed his body.
Above him, the new sun flared again into brilliant-white ugliness. Beams of gamma and x-rays radiation blasted the planet, winds strong enough to break trees dug furrows and fog-like plasma-fire, ghost-like ion storms sucked the life out of living creatures while magnetic eddies ravaged active electronics. Death walked the planet.
What a nightmare, thought Ryder. The day I become a Praetorian -- an elite defender of the faithful, guardian of the privileged, keeper of state secrets and linked to Tobald Augustus's heir, Logan Jackson, the world explodes. I'm alive so Jackson must be alive. Ryder drifted into memories of how this moment came to be.
The invention of Faster Than Light travel, the dream of science for generations sent construction crews to the Oort Cloud where an abundance of metal ores and ice created a diaspora to the stars; scientists seeking to explore and catalog extrasolar planets, humans anxious to build new civilizations. Ryder grew up on the factory farm in Iowa where he dreamed of spaceflight, adventure, vast riches and unspoiled worlds, all of it waiting for human colonization and exploitation. At ten, he witnessed the first mass uplift of millions of humans who fancied themselves self-reliant, strong-willed adventurers. Colonists who believed that conquering the stars was as easy as cowboys taming the American West. Instead, they discovered fierce animals and intelligent life forms. They became buckaroo and buccaneer, John Wayne and Horatio Hornblower all in one.
In his eighteenth year, a thickly muscled, bright lad, eager for adventure, fame and fortune, Ryder Eisel joined the Iowa 29th Irregular Militia under the banner of Commander Rosario Santiago-Gomez. Driven by reports of fantastic worlds with poisonous atmospheres, personal androids made fro living flesh, fanged creatures that rapidly developed a taste for human flesh and riches beyond the dreams of avarice, Ryder went warrior, rogue and fighter, gun for hire. A quarter of the alien planets supported pre-spaceflight civilizations of warriors with primitive weapons. The Militias salvaged new worlds for the surviving colonists, subjugating and enslaving aliens before turning over the planet's raw materials to the colonists.
That was how Ryder came to this planet, Tobald's Planet, the outermost of three, circled Zeta Doradus, a yellowish star similar to Earth's sun, leasehold of the Tobold Corporation. Tobald Augustus ruled it like Tiberius on the Isle of Capri. Rich in oxygen and airborne organi-metallic compounds; the atmosphere metalized the bodies of humans and if not genetically adjusted, caused organ failure.
Ryder drifted in and out of consciousness as the exploding FTL drive ravaged the world with electromagnetic storms and lightning. A bolt hit his suit and Ryder blacked out.
Details! Details! Railed Tobald Augustus when he hired Spaceways Mining to exploit his new riches. None of the miners wanted to stay on Tobald's planet, so they rejected the gene therapy required to adapt their lungs. Instead, they depended on less-than-perfect filter technology and masks. Freighters brought in mining machines capable of excavating mountains and prefab foundries to smelt the ores. Augustus ignored the natives and they didnÕt understand his intent until miners laid waste to whole mountain ranges. No one objected when he looked the other way as half the native mining crews died in accidents. Finally, the natives revolted and wiped out one of the human mining crews.
Augustus took refuge in the fortress he called a house and called for the militia. By the time the Militia arrived, the natives learned to use the arsenal of weapons stored illegally on the planet. For that mistake, Tobald Augustus got a new name. Augustus the Fool.
Augustus the Fool, indeed. There is no fool like an old and the dead fools he oppressed. Ryder thought as they wiped out the rebels and brought order to the planet. Mining crews once again spread across the planet and renewed their efforts. However, Augustus underestimated the native rebellion and the missile launch took the militia's spaceship by surprise.
For Ryder and the militia, the attack was the stuff that nightmares are made of and an epic failure. Only finding Tobald Augustus's heir and restoring human control of the planet would be acceptable. A low-oxygen alarm woke him and he activated the suit.
The bitter taste of half-death and bile greeted him. The pungency of burned and rotting flesh filled his mask. He scrambled to his feet, knife out, searching for enemies; the metal armor pressing against his metalized muscles. The dead Lizard lay on blackened carnivorous razor grass. Above him the skies glowed with the reds and greens of auroras betraying the magnetic storms still in the ionosphere. The helmet's heads-up display registered no ground-based radiation or magnetic storms. Beyond, patches of dead semi-plants and the remains of forest animals and birds lay like ghoulish manna from the heavens; manna from the great god Death, new ruler of Tobald's world. Magnetic storms destroyed ferrous iron in the blood and formed met-hemoglobulin.
In the distance, black smoke from burning machines billowed up to the sky. The strip mine my destination, crossed Ryder's mind, instructions hidden in his memory chips. He checked the radio spectrum for signals. Static and noise filled his ears. The emergency probe should have survived the explosion but the radio in his armor couldn't transmit very far, possibly only line of sight with the ionization in the atmosphere.
The glories of Death filled the camp. Bodies of humans and aliens lay on every path, in every machine and building. What the natives had not destroyed, the blast from the spaceship's exploding FTL consumed. Days before, the strip mining machines lifted clamshell buckets containing hundreds of cubic yards of mineral ore into tipple cars for transport to the foundry. Now, most humans sat electrocuted in the cabs of the diggers or burned alive in the cheap, Quonset huts. Ryder collected their IDs one by one, moving from machine to machine. Aliens lay, mouths open, hands clutching their throats and chests, their hemoglobin destroyed by the magnetic storms. Although partially metal, Ryder bore the final duty of those who survived, counting the dead. Burial could wait for another day. Spaceways Mining had a "Chapel" and like most old Earth shipping companies and harbors, spaceports and orbiting platforms held services for the remembrance of those lost during the voyages.
Ryder let his electronics search for survivors only to be answered by the electric wind of nothingness.
My charge is here, in this mining complex. But where? thought Ryder.
Thousands of feet away from the active mines in the maintenance yard, a clamshell bucket clanged like a bell. Someone lived inside the closed halves of a bucket. Ryder heard and searched for a bucket large enough to hold a man. Most of the clamshells and shovels lay idle on the ground with the cables slack or cranes toppled. Only one clamshell hung from an A-frame in the repair shop with its bucket swaying in the wind. The remote control from the a-frame snaked inside the bucket. Obviously, whoever was inside had closed it and without power, couldn't reopen it, the halves of the bucket weighed a ton each.
He approached cautiously, amping up the gain on his earpieces and listening. Two youthful voices chattered about how to open the clamshell by pushing form the inside. They weren't panicked or desperate, more methodical and silly. He didn't say or yell anything to reveal his approach and the voices sounded preoccupied with each other and their predicament. Ryder listened to their secrets as he climbed to the top of the A-frame. There was no hatch on the top of the bucket. He pulled the brackets together and dumped the two on the dirt piled beneath.
Two figures landed with a thump, creating a pile of dust. One Earthling, one Tobold, both sweaty and dirty. They stepped from under the bucket and looked up at the metallic form of Ryder.
"You took long enough," Logan Jackson, nicknamed Augustus Junior behind his back or "the kid" to his face thanks to his short stature and scraggly chin whiskers, said. The Praetorian stared down at him. "You're my guard from the militia unit. You have to be." Logan was naked except for steel-toed shoes. The Tobald didn't wear clothing then, they never did. It shuffled on its webbed feet, looking embarrassed, preparing a lie.
"How did you two end up in there?"
"I saw the rocket launch and ran for cover. Toby followed me," Logan lied.
Ryder jumped down and landed next to them with a bone-crunching thud. Toby grabbed Logan's arm tried to hide behind Logan. Logan swallowed hard as he gave Ryder a long hard look up and down. He puffed out his chest but at four-foot five inches and one hundred ten pounds, he was no match for four hundred pounds of armor encasing Ryder's six-foot eight, two hundred fifty pound body.
"And the Tobald?"
"His name's Toby. We was examining the bucket for flaws."
"Is there an Earthman in that thing?" Toby asked. The lizard's eyes shifted left and down and back again. Why is this alien alive? What is he hiding? thought Ryder. Logan pulled Toby to his side and put his arm around the lizard.
"I'm very much a human and I'm under contract to protect Logan. Do you two have any idea what happened?" Ryder asked. He stared down the lizard, making him fear for his life. Toby swiveled his head and eyes around, taking in what he could see of the yard. Its tongue slithered out tasting and smelling the air.
"War happened. I can taste it." Toby said.
Pathetic lie, thought Ryder. Before he could ask anything else, Logan spoke up.
"Did the missile take out the power supply? From the looks of the chaos around here, you guys won. You got any water. We only had a couple bottles and god we're dry. It's been hours since ate or drank. I hope you guy's got a new power supply in orbit. I'd hate to have the natives go back to mining by hand. Of course the foundries won't smelt without power but we can stockpile the ores," Logan babbled. The entire militia thought him clueless but Ryder knew he wasn't terminally stupid.
"Don't play the fool with me?" Ryder's voice boomed out of the armor. "You ran miles from the settlement and into the maintenance yard naked and the only one to see you was a Lizard and you invited him into your hiding hole? That's a lie." Ryder waved his metal hand as if to fan away a smell.
Logan took a step back. "Well! I didn't look around and wave 'Hi! It's me and 'I'm naked' to anyone. Not with the power supply next to the settlement. I ran out of the shower and away from what I thought was going to explode and burn. Speaking of burning, I'm already turning red from the sun. Can we get to the maintenance office? I always keep some clean clothes there just in case. I always seem to wear oils and stuff that the maintenance men use. I can use some clothing. Why don't you just stomp your way over there Bigfoot?"
This ain't going to be pretty but it will be a revelation. He doesn't know what he's going to find in the office. thought Ryder. A dozen steps from the office Toby's tongue snapped back into his mouth. He smelled and tasted death in the air. He stopped and turning away from the shed.
"I'd rather not step into that office," Toby said.
"It's just the office." Logan looked in through the window. His face contorted. First puzzled, then shocked and finally angry as he realized who sat in the building. His knees shook and hand trembled on the door handle. He pushed the top half of the door open and nearly stuck his head inside before the smell hit. He ran a trash barrel and grasped the sides of the trashcan while his stomach spasmed, trying to expel nothing.
Tobald Augustus sat at the main console, his body burnt black and bloated by the heat. Logan stumbled to the console, staring at the dead seconds-in-command, the dead usual sycophants. He slipped to one knee next to Augie's body and cried, caressing the dead hand of his Uncle. Ryder let him weep for a few minutes.
"Get your clothes and put your mask on boy," Ryder said. Logan took a pair of coveralls from a locker near the back door and dressed. They made him look even smaller and childlike.
"I never knew my parents. Augie treated me like a real father," he said, not finishing the sentence. He collapsed against Ryder's metal body and hugged the huge metal man.
"How could one missile do this?" Logan waved at the dead, seated at their usual stations.
"Magnetic storms generate magnetics that short all the electronics. Gamma ray bursts just kill."
"Gone. It's all gone. Everything is dead but for us three," Logan sobbed. He squared his shoulders and tried to get control of his emotions.
"Unless they were shielded."
Logan broke away and grabbed Toby.
"You knew they were going to attack the spaceship. You said nothing would happen. You said you cared for me. You lied." He broke free from Logan's grasp and tried to run. Ryder grabbed his arm and held tight. Toby snarled and hissed at Logan.
"When I became a man, as you humans call coming of age, my father gave me my pick of humans. I chose you. I came here to the clamshell to perform the binding. You are my bondservant, my thrall, my property. Order your metal beast to accompany me to my village. There, my the council and my father and the warriors who drove the militia from our skies might forgive you," Toby stood imperious. Logan laughed.
"Victorious? Victorious?" Logan shook like a leaf. His voice cracked. "They're all dead, you fool."
"Our warriors destroyed your mining machines and your spaceship. We turned your technology against you. Tell your human beast to release me. He's an offense to eye and ear. We are once again rulers of our planet. We are victorious." Toby waited for a reaction that didn't happen. Toby stood defiant. Ryder poked a finger into his chest.
"Everyone else is dead out there, you fool," Logan screamed. He threw Toby to the floor and straddled him. He whaled away, swinging roundhouse, wild punches, all the while screaming curses and recriminations about being betrayed, about sex organs and sexual acts and how easy it would be to kill the stupid lizard. Toby put his claws up in defense but with short arms, he couldn't do much but deflect Logan's blows. Ryder watched and judged it less worthy of a schoolgirl-slap-festival fight.
I'm not much older than this kid. He's scrappy, passionate but scrawny and inept. How did he ever get out here light-years from Earth?. And what the hell is he hiding. What's his secret? He hasn't even realized that he inherited the planet. I can't let him go on like this. The Commander would have my balls. Ryder thought. When Logan's knuckles turned red and oozed blood from the lizard's scaly skin, he started kicking.
"Fighting won't change what's happened." Ryder stopped the fight and extended a metal hand for Toby to stand.
"Ever seen a lizard roast? I want him on a spit. I want to hear him scream as the flames consume his flesh. Uncle Augie did that once. Put the fear of god into these lizards," Logan managed to get out between gasping for air.
"The dead will settle this war in the afterlife. You might want to think about putting revenge on hold, permanent-like. You two need to go find bottled water, First Aid kits and anything else we might need. I'll move the big stuff but you two have to carry your share." Logan tried to push Ryder away. He couldn't.
"Easy for you to say. Take that armor off and fight me like a man," Logan protested. Ryder laughed.
"Even without the suit I'm a hundred pounds heavier than you and I got real muscles not those fake, girly things you call muscles. Worry about surviving tomorrow and not avenging yesterday." He pushed Logan and Toby toward a cart. The two moved warily, afraid. They loaded the water bottles and emptied the maintenance shed of anything useful.
Over the next twenty-four hours as they set about the tasks of burying the dead and building shelter. Ryder removed the IDs from the dead humans and stored them in an empty ammo box. It became his book of remembrance. Logan mourned Augustus Tobald with a stone cairn in his memory. Toby refused to even discuss a memorial for his kinsmen let alone raise a memorial. He reasoned that those who came after didn't want to remember their beginnings.
Ryder insisted that the bodies be burnt. Toby reluctantly agreed. However, the human nose can be anesthetized to distasteful smells or be fooled by ointments and lotions. The lizard's sense of smell and taste resided solely in his tongue. The slightest wiff of death caused Toby to retch. Logan teased, calling it morning sickness. When Toby started losing substantial weight from not eating, Ryder banished him from "dead duty." That didn't stop the weight loss. A few days later, they discovered a Tobaldian vole that survived the FTL destruction. At first, Toby wouldn't eat a creature that lived underground then hunger and starvation got the best of him. He gained size and strength to the point of becoming pudgy and soft.
Several times a day they checked the radio spectrum. It became more important than anything else. The radio said nothing. Did nothing. The god of the sky remained silent, Toby said. His native practices never meshed with Logan's human practices but he rarely demanded his customs or beliefs be followed.
Initially, Ryder forbid nakedness but relented after a week when they discovered a native fungus thrived on human fabrics. Logan bulked up with the physical work. He never spoke of his parents or family, choosing not to engage. When the conversation came close to the clamshell, he stopped talking and Ryder stopped asking about the clamshell.
Physically Logan matured, gaining muscle and gain confidence. He asked Ryder to teach him how to discipline his actions, how to become strong. But Logan never got close enough to Ryder to reveal the secrets in his Uncle's lockbox. Ryder knew it contained the Planetary Landgrant, Letters of Authority and other legal documents he needed to contact the outside world because two days before the disaster, Augustus Tobald told him to forward to contents to the Galactic Hall of Records in the event of his death. Ryder needed time to gain Logan's trust.
Toby feared the armored goliath who could rip trees out of the ground and tear metal open. If Ryder surprised him, he nearly jumped out of his skin or simply ran away to retch. Something about the alien stopped Ryder from arranging his accidental death.
During the sixth week, Ryder lumbered into camp and dropped pieces of the shuttlecraft on the ground. Logan, avoiding the sun in a hammock, looked up and laughed.
"Hey Klatu, what you rip off the wreckage of society this time?"
"Key-Anu my ass. Get over here. It took me a while to get them out without breaking the ceramics but these are the five magnets that will unlock my suit. You're going to help me." He waved for Logan to come over.
"Why? Can't scratch your ass Abner?"
"I can't reach the master lock."
"I thought you were self-sufficient?" Logan asked, picking up one of the magnets.
"In the suit I am. I just can't open the armor."
"Oh that makes lots of stupid sense. A nearly invincible robot that can't help himself," he laughed. Ryder growled.
"The suit has its own self-destruct. I'm technology that can't fall to aliens. Without the proper key, I self destruct."
"You're not going to bang now, are you?"
"That would conflict with my orders to protect you."
"I'll bet it would," Logan laughed. Ryder stuck a magnet behind each knee and elbow and positioned a magnet on his chest plate. Logan placed the last and keyed in the sequence on a hidden pad. The armor moved without warning. It sat down and lay in a W shape. Then it opened and exposed Ryder's human body. His skin was already slivery and shiny like metal. Hundreds of fiber optic whiskers grew out from his muscles. He lay back and letting the wind blow over his body and the sun warm it. Logan stared in amazement.
"What you looking at boy?" he teased,
"I remember when you landed. I asked Uncle Augie wondered how they got a spacesuit big enough to fit those shoulders. Now you're even bigger."
"My Pa always said they grow us big in Iowa," Ryder bragged. Logan wrapped his hand around Ryder's genitals and stroked away. Ryder's skin felt cold and metallic.
"And you're hung as big as me." Ryder swatted him away.
"Sorry, I used to masturbate Uncle Augie. I miss him. He fancied himself Tiberius Caesar. When he was drunk he used to call me Caligula and tell me about his imaginary sexual fantasies on the Isle of Capri. I never told anyone but you all guessed that, didn't you? Uncle Augie liked man on man sex. He did say that earthborn men were more muscular but spaceborn men were hung bigger. I'll bet he loved your body. You're big on both counts. Do those sensors embedded in your skin hurt?"
Taken aback, Ryder said nothing for a few seconds. The kid seemed to know everything his Uncle did. Uncle Augie lied and the kid knew every one of his Uncle's strange habits. This kid in appearance only, this supposed sexual sidekick knew his Uncle's plans and habits too well. Worse, he knew more than Ryder thought he knew about the night of the rebellion that destroyed the Militia's FTL spaceship.
"Like a pin prick when they're inserted. I was thinking about not using the armor for a few days." Ryder tugged at the fiber optic thread attached to his right pectoral muscle. It didn't release. Then he pulled at a fiber optic thread stuck to his arm and cringed in pain. Logan took a close look at the silver threads growing from the fiber optic into Ryder's muscles and he realized what was happening.
"I don't think you should do that," Logan said. Ryder ignore him and tugged at the fiber optic.
"What's with these? Damn sensors usually just release. Must be the length of time. I couldnÕt find anyone who wore a suit this long before," Ryder mumbled to himself. He wrapped his fist around a fiber optic thread embedded in his forearm and prepared to yank.
"Wait, wait. Don't pull that. You'll hurt yourself. The sensors are part of your muscles." Logan grabbed his hand.
"That doesn't happen unless," Ryder stopped and stared at Logan.
"You've been modified. Uncle Augie modified you. He told me no matter what happened with the lizards I should find you and you would protect me. That's why I wasn't surprised when the clamshell opened," Logan answered. Ryder's mind raced.
"That wasn't in the contract I signed."
"I have to get my lockbox. Move." Logan ran to a footlocker and came back with his lockbox. He sat on the exoskeleton straddling Ryder's bare thighs and set the lockbox on Ryder's abs. Ryder couldn't see the combination.
"I'm not a table." Ryder tried to pick it up but Logan pushed his hands away and set it back on his abs. Ryder blushed as his manhood stiffened. He muttered an apology.
"Listen to me. Uncle Augie did lots of bad things. I know he fancied himself Caesar. I know that treated me and a lot of other people like crap but he wasn't altogether stupid and heartless. He made me his son and heir in his own perverted way. The night before everything, he gave me his infamous book of vices. All his sins and lies recorded in one tiny diary. It explains your fate." Logan picked out a 3x5 inch notebook and scanned through a few pages until his face assumed a skeptical frown and shook up and down. He handed Ryder the notebook.
"Sorry Dude. Uncle Augie nailed your ass but good. You're my property, body and soul and in metal, it seems." The notebook related how Tobald Augustus picked one militiaman as a permanent guard for Logan and had the fiberoptic sensors coated with genetic agents so the metallic suit would become a permanent part of the militiaman's body. He ordered genetic agents administered to metalize the guardian's body, turning the guardian into living metal, replacing flesh and blood, not human, a cyborg. And in the eyes of the law, a mere possession of his adopted heir. The notebook described the transformation. First the fiber optic fibers would attach to the subject's nervous system and then his flesh would turn to metal and finally his internal organs, the subject's brain would interface with the memory chips built into the exoskeleton.
Ryder read the page and handed the notebook back to Logan. He stared at the threads growing in and out of his body. This changed his status completely.
"You're more than what the Ancient Romans called cohortes urbanae. You're my Praetorian guard. See, it bears the Seal of Augustus and the date." Logan gave Ryder a moment to absorb the information. Ryder accessed the suit's memory chips and found the contract signed by the Militia in his name, authorizing his indenture and servitude. An accompanying memo described the blackmailing of the Militia leaders in nasty detail. The memory chips also contained instructions from Augustus Tobold. Plans within plans. Wheels within wheels. All turning and twisting and creating. When he glanced back at Logan, barely a quarter-second had passed in real time. Logan sat cringing as if he was going to be struck. "If you want to beat on me a while, you can. I can live with a few bruises or broken bones. Just don't kill me," Logan said, cringing. Ryder laughed and tousled the boy's hair.
"Don't be silly. When did Augustus tell you about this?"
"The day you arrived. We saw you in the locker room and commented on how handsome you were. We both got a little cock hungry about your body. I've hoped I could avoid telling you about the metallization but I couldn't find the right time until you opened the suit. The last night he was alive, Uncle Augie said he had plans inside plans. I keep finding the plans all involve lies and hurting other people and causing pain and death and all sorts of bad things." He fondled Ryder's manhood again. This time, Ryder didn't swat him away. Gaining Logan's trust meant submitting to Logan's desires and Logan owned him.
"Uncle Augie's last day was the day he sent me up to the Spaceship to be sealed in the exoskeleton. The other guys in the militia were jealous. We used to talked about these types of one-way assignments, imagining what it would be like, living on an alien world, possibly even transforming into something not human." He took a deep breath and arched his back. "If you stop fondling my junk without getting me off, I'll break everyone of your fingers and most of the bones in your pathetic body." Ryder winked.
"Then you aren't angry?" Logan squeezed Ryder's manhood. Ryder gasped in pain and pleasure.
"Contractually, the Militia had the rights to sell my body. There's worse jobs than keeping you safe and sound." He giggled and Logan smiled.
"Good because I've been hungry for your body." He teased the head of Ryder's manhood with his tongue. Ryder grabbed his ears and pushed Logan's head down, pulsing and squirting his from deep in his aching testicles. Logan slurped and gobbled in delight. When he finished, he wiped his mouth on his arm.
"I miss the simple pleasures of life. You taste like well oile metal with an electric tinge. Uncle Augie left a batch of genetic modification stuff for me to use. He said if I wanted to rule for the long term, then I should go metal. I didn't know what that meant back then but I do now. This planet's metallization isn't a diplomatic or social death sentence. After all, the only place I won't be able to travel to is earth. Since I'd never been there, I don't care. He also said I should give you a booster shot and speed up your metallization if I had a chance. He said the sooner for you the better for me. I didn't ask what that means." Logan took a medical cylinder from his lockbox. It contained three hypodermics.
"He left computer files for me to read. At some point my brain will interface with those chips. Are you sure you want to become metal? You might live for centuries and your brain can be downloaded into a machine if your body dies. Some people consider that a curse and not a benefit," Ryder asked. Logan shook his head affirmatively.
"IÕm not afraid of being computerized. For the first time in years, I know what I want to do with myself. I think I understand what Uncle Augie wanted. I think he wanted to create a new Roman Civilization. I think he had designs on a new Pax Romana, one in his name. I know that Spaceways Mining was ready to foreclose on his debts and take all of this. I think he figured out a way to thwart Spaceways and void their contract. If Spaceways abandoned the planet after your Militia's FTL blew. If we could prove that, they lose those rights and all their investment."
"If we can prove that all in court, we have a chance. Spaceways will fight until we die. Even metalized they can outlast us." Ryder adjusted some of the internal devices in his suit.
"It will work if I declare myself heir and emperor and your Militia swears to the abandonment. If they don't, I have Uncle Augie's book of sins. I think your Militia will happily accept a revised contract rather than admit to the shenanigans in the book." Logan gave Ryder the booster shot. As the genetic agents spread through his body Ryder closed his eyes. When he opened them, Logan had the elastic strap around his arm and was withdrawing a hypodermic.
"So you're going to go through with Augie's plan?"
"I want to do good in his name. It's about time I took the throne of Tolbald's Planet and dealt with my subjects." Logan sealed his lockbox.
"All two of us." Ryder laughed but Logan only chuckled nervously. Then he wrapped his lips around Ryder's manhood and cleaned it with his tongue. He stepped off Ryder's body and away from the metal suit.
"You taste so good, it's a shame to seal you up and hide you away," Logan said.
"I can fix that." Ryder sat up, removed the robotic facemask, changed internal configuration of the suit of armor to something more human in appearance. He removed the codpiece that covered his manhood so he dangled and would be seen as a male robot. Then he let the suit close around him. Motors and gears engaged the locks. The giant Praetorian turned and sat up, motors whining softly and gears meshing. The Praetorian, his personal bodyguard sat next to Logan once again.
"I wish I could have a suit and body like yours." Logan put his lock box in his footlocker and came back to sit next to Ryder. He leaned against the broad, metal chest and steel abs.
"I'll show you how to muscle up. You're not scrawny like you were. You have a decent musculature already. All the suits went boom when the spaceship blew up. To tell truth to power, your diminutive size and boyish good looks will be an advantage in diplomacy." Without the mask, Ryder's voice no longer boomed like thunder.
"I think my first order as king of this world will be for you to gold plate me when the metallization is complete." Logan giggled, listening to the motors and gears as the suit moved with Ryder's breathing.
"To tell the truth, chrome is sexier than gold or silver but dull grey titanium makes you strong like bull and ox and hardened black metal is a dream. We spent time researching metal coatings in the militia. It's your choice."
"The trusted advisor speaks truth to power," Logan joked. Ryder looked around the campsite. He didn't see Toby.
"You could order Toby to wave fronds over us and feed us fruit."
"Toby's off doing his thing on some rocks, laying in the sun. It's his cold-blooded nature. When he wakes up I'll tell him."
"The life of a lazy lizard."
"I wouldn't say that. Egg laying takes lots of stamina or so he tells me."
"Eggs? How can he lay eggs? He's got a dick just like me." Ryder gasped as Logan grabbed his manhood and squeezed it like the gearshift on a car.
"It's called "Hermaphroditic race salvage syndrome" thanks to some sort of genetic trick. Lizards do it all the time on earth," Logan said. Ryder studied his face. It wasn't a lie. He searched the databases and found descriptions of earth lizards changing sex. Then he realized his connection with the database was part of his metallization. He thought the transition to metal would be slower, less digital and more human. He turned his attention back to Logan.
"Seriously? He's mummy and daddy for a new race? Who'da thought?" Ryder asked. Logan blushed. Ryder's heads-up display showed the increase in his heart rate and blood flow. It registered deception.
"Don't ask me any more."
"Logan, you don't have to lie to me. One, part of my transformation is unquestioning loyalty and two I don't want to betray you. I'm happy to be your robot," Ryder said.
"You don't know. It's another one of Uncle Augie's plans. Augie lied all the time and never got called on it. I keep thinking back to what happened and wondering what part of it didn't Uncle Augie lie about? I can't even remember half the lies he told me let alone explain why he lied. Not anymore." Logan's voice trailed off. Tears formed in his eyes and he looked down.
"What other lies could last beyond Tobald Augustus's death to hurt you?" Ryder asked. Logan lay back against Ryder's chest and stayed silent for the better part of an hour before he decided to speak again. Logan's head and shoulders turned a deep red.
"Toby started laying dozens of eggs a week ago. He's not the father of the new race. He's not really the female in the traditional sense. He's already produced about a thousand eggs and he says he won't stop laying for a year. Apparently, I'm the father of all of them."
"That's not so terrible, is it?" Ryder asked. Tears slipped from Logan's eyes. He wiped his cheeks and continued.
"It is terrible. It's like this. Uncle Augie sold me to Toby just like he bought you. I am Toby's slave under the old rules and yet I'm master of the world by our law. I'm Toby's handmaiden or thrall or stooge. It's my duty to serve him as sperm donor and keep him pregnant with eggs. The night before the spaceship exploded, the ruling gang of Tobalds captured us. They had us all trussed up and ready to butcher like farm animals. To save us, Uncle Augie gave me to them. He lied about me to the Tobald to save my life. He told me they could have me to create their new race. He ordered me to go to the maintenance yard. He told them that humans were more virile, more potent in clamshells. A cockamamie lie about mating that I didn't understand at the time. I broke. I lost it that night. I ran to the yard in shock, thinking I could get away. Uncle Augie's henchmen grabbed me and Toby and sealed us inside the clamshell. I can't be sure but I think Uncle Augie was the one who told them how to launch the missile." Logan stopped and leaned on Ryder's hard, metal shoulder.
"That would explain how the Tobald fired a missile. The top brass assume the missile was hidden in the Spaceways secret cache. You and Augie are in the clear as long as we say nothing." Ryder waited. Logan had more sins to confess.
"Toby wasn't anyone special, just a kid they yanked off the paths and they did something to make him a fertile hermaphroditic egg layer. Whatever they gave us made us both horny as hell. We couldn't stop. He screwed me but not with the same effect I had on him. His body sucked up my sperm and somehow is storing it. I'm only alive because I'm alien and because Toby didn't have a weapon. Humans don't die after sex. Tobald pure males do. While we were mating, we heard the explosions of the equipment and screams of the dying and still we couldn't stop screwing each other, we couldn't stop having sex. Then it got silent and we sat around doing nothing but staring at each other and bickering until you came. The rest you know. It's not parthenogenesis. I'm not oviparous but I am the father of those eggs. They're mine to take care of and since I'm emperor, they will be my subjects, too."
I am Yorick, teacher to the most powerfual man in the universe and the most childlike, thought Ryder. He sat, trying to think of something to say about the Machiavellian maneuvers of Uncle Tobald and political audacity with which he pulled off the greatest coup-de-grace in the known universe. Nothing good came to mind, so he waited a respectable time and offered pablum and bromide.
"He set you up to be the Emperor of Tobald and set me up to be certain that happened. The joke of it is that Toby will tell us how it feels to lay eggs," Ryder laughed. It broke Logan's serious near-depression.
"He won't but I've watched him pump out eggs. It's truly disgusting but he kinda gets this orgasmic look on his face as each egg pops out of his body that makes him hate it even more. You should mock him whenever you can." Logan the child returned for the moment. Ryder continued.
"We could ban golf and bowling and then not tell those hybrid kids of yours what the games looked like. That way, we can laugh at what they create what they think golf and bowling looks like. Teen rebellion is going to be a bitch with that many kids." His tease met a serious-faced Logan.
"I don't want those kids, whenever those egg-things hatch, whatever they look like or talk like or walk like, they are my kids, I don't want them growing up as the half-breed mongrels of the universe. I grew up a half-breed mongrel son of a whore. I grew up servicing the powerful. They deserve better. Let's create a real life for all of them."
Rarely caught off his guard, Ryder summoned up a feeble "Huh?" in response to Logan's sudden and unexpected newfound sense. Logan continued.
"That's my deepest secret, now. Never tell anyone that Augie bought me from a pimp when I was six years old. It was one of those back alley deals. He staggered into the alley, drunk and puking when my pimp started beating me for gagging on the client's prong and puking spaghetti all over. I was a dead boy or worse, another medical experiment for sale. Augie paid in gold and treated me like I was a golden boy. I was an ugly child and a little bastard in those days. We had a rough times but Augie forced me to face up to society and be more than just a cocksucking bastard. I don't want my offspring, even if they are humanoid lizards, to become the dregs, the whores and pickpockets, the next toilet cleaners or food servers, the shoe or cellphone sanitizers, the next gossipy hairdressers and personal servants. I want to give them a real chance at being a civilized and noble species. I don't want this world to become a chattel of Spaceways Mining. This world is rich enough to build into a powerhouse of something better. I'm not sure what that is but we have time to work it out. I want to give my kids a chance. Call it misplaced fatherhood but I feel I need to do this."
"That's quite an agenda." Ryder said.
"And you're going to help me fulfill it. You're going to be my big, metal Praetorian. We can start right now, today, this minute."
"How?" Once again, Ryder discovered that he underestimated Logan.
"Tell me where the secret stash of emergency equipment is hidden and help me make a deal with the 29th Irregular Militia. If they support me as Augustus Tobald's heir and my declaration of abandonment, the courts will have to ratify my accession to the throne and void the Spaceways Contract."
"There's no secret stash of weapons," Ryder insisted.
"Same as Spaceways Mining didn't store forbidden weapons on planet?"
"We're not as stupid as Soaceways and your Uncle. Sorry to be blunt about it. The Militia would never store advanced technology and weapons on a planet without a failsafe. If the cache exists it was probably blown to smithereens."
"Bullshit. The secret weapon survived. You're the advanced technology and weaponry that maintains the Militia's hold on the planet, aren't you? The giveaway is the exoskeleton. It makes you damn near invulnerable. You can't tell me that a bound Praetorian travels without weapons. How many weapons are hiding in that armor of yours? No, you survived the FTL implosion and would have me believe that you are as helpless as I am?" Logan asked.
"You're having conspiratorial hallucinations. Maybe it's the strain of becoming a father, maybe you just can't cope," Ryder tried to lie. Logan didn't accept it.
"Maybe it's the active radio signal the lockbox monitored while it was on your lap. That armor does a great job of hiding the signal when it's closed but when it opened that that beacon they built into your skull began broadcasting loud and clear. That's why you wanted the suit opened. You didn't care about getting out so much as pinging the satellites and letting the Militia know you're alive. I'll bet that you're broadcasting our conversation right now. Tell your Militia buddies that I'm Augie's heir and leaseholder of the planet. Tell them I live." Logan folded his arms and waited.
"Shit. I'm recording. Transmitting would violate my contract with you." Ryder closed his eyes and opened a communications link to the satellite. When he reopened his eyes, Logan was ready with his demands.
"Tell them that the heir of Augustus Tobald retains the rights to your contract as my own private Praetorian. The 29th Irregular Militia can't exercise any option you unless I default and I have no intention of going to default. You are mine, my big, gorgeous metal man. I love you as much as I love my new metallic self. Wait, wait, don't tell them that. Tell them I will declare Spaceways Mining and the Council in default because they abandoned the planet. Tell them that I am the absolute civil authority. Tell them I will have several thousand citizen-subjects when those eggs hatch and I want autonomy." Logan sat smug as a paid off politician and waited for the results. Ryder negotiated for a few minutes. While he waited for the Four-Stars in the Militia to respond, he raided their computers.
"They understand and agree," Ryder said.
"Really?" Logan was surprised.
"I convinced the Four Stars how much fun it would be to bludgeon Spaceways. I told them they knew I was dumb enough to be bamboozled by a kid." Ryder winked. Logan gave him a high sign. The Ryder went silent for a few minutes. Logan watched as Ryder's eyes kept scanning the heads-up displays inside his helmet. He finally leveled his gaze on Logan. "My, my, my, the language just landed in the gutter. Spaceways is screaming like stuck pigs in heat but they accept your terms. I told them you would release Uncle Augie's book on everybody and blame the release on their failure to hold the planet. That made a few of them sputter like giant gas bladders farting in the swamps."
"We learned from the best wheeler-dealer in the galaxy, didn't we," Logan kissed Ryder's face. He felt cold as metal, I will become metal just like him, thought Logan. Ryder's eyes read another message in his head's up display.
"The Militia will take your side to the Galactic Council. They'll have a spaceship orbiting the planet within the hour, validating your claim and reinstalling the communications satellites. This is fun. I'm going to enjoy being your Praetorian."
"We are on the way to doing good things," Logan answered. They waited until Toby woke up to tell him the news.
In the annals of galactic history, Tobald's planet snatched power from obscurity and wielded influence to the farthest corners of the galaxy. Uncle Augie's little book of vices helped more than any galactic politician would admit. The hybrid human-lizard men and women of Tobald became the Galaxy's most sophisticated and best-educated politicians and bureaucrats. Logan, Toby and their metal giant cyborg lived La Dolce Vita without the Rota score.
7930 words more or less
FUTURES YET UNKNOWN
Ten Stories by Dave Fragments
*An Alien serial murderer and a furry detective with fleas.
*Murder on a world with altered humans.
*Disturbing apocalyptic visions *Monstrous dystopian societies.
*A man on trial for betraying the human race to robots.
*Devils, demons and ghosts.
*Survivors of a plague war.
*Cyborgs trying to be human.
*Six friends in a strange sinkhole.
*The truth about a world drowning in rain, without sun, without hope.
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