From Issue 2
Mickie found the Doombot5000 at an estate sale purely by accident. Well, that and a tracking app she’d installed on her phone. But really, when the address popped up, it wasn’t as if she could have known it was the estate if her former nemesis, Sandron the Unstoppable.
Poor Sandy. He’d been a decent antagonist back in the day. She didn’t remember any invite to his funeral.
Mickie, formerly Mindsight the Conqueror of Space, shuffled through the rows of sentimental crap and old clothes and Sandy’s impressive collection of Space & Time Quarterly until her phone buzzed and she saw the Doombot5000 in a corner behind three ancient vacuums.
No one else has noticed yet, because why would a guy like Sandy have owned a Doombot5000?
“I’ll take all four vacuums,” she told the manager.
— * —
Back at her loft, which was nothing like her old digs on the Cataract of Europa, she lined up her new vacuums and the Doombot5000.
The Doombot5000 did resemble an old tube-hosed vacuum, with its squat head against the floor, a cylindrical upright body and its destructor-arms flattened against its sides like a cord and nozzle. Of course its batteries were depleted and the flashing red eyes and wailing “DESTROY ALL THE THINGS!” mantra were offline.
What mattered and why Mickie had shelled out a grand for the ‘antiques’—half the rent for this month—was that it was an original Doombot, and it hadn’t been neutralized by the Accord of Peaceful Enforcement in '98.
Her heart pounded as fast as it had back in the day when she donned her black heels, vibrant purple cape, and went forth to battle the do-gooder heroes always standing between her and world domination. She pulled out the adapter cord she’d made and plugged it into the Doombot’s battery port. Nothing, at first.
Then the optics began to glow and the digitized voice crackled through static. “D-DESTROY—”
“Disengage,” Mickie ordered, and the Doombot quieted. She’d designed them to answer only to her voice commands, but of course Mimic the Mic had figured that out and copied her voice and shut down her army.
For a moment she considered reprogramming the half dozen Doombots she’d collected in retirement and starting again, but—it wouldn’t be the same. Most of her old foes were dead or retired, and besides, she was trying to reform.
Taking a deep breath to calm herself, Mickie unscrewed the Doombot’s back casing and examined the motherboard. No visible damage or corrosion. Good. She clipped her earpiece, wired to a small mic, into the DO NOT TAMPER WITH port.
“Claire?” she asked. “You in there?”
— * —
It wasn’t her fault, is what Mickie’s therapist had told her. But that was bullshit and they both knew it. So she fired him and went for coffee with one of her few non-powered friends.
Daisy was a mechanical engineer. They’d dated on and off (way back when), but since Daisy didn’t approve of world domination, they’d decided to just stay friends.
“Why does it have to be your fault?” Daisy asked, eyeing the flakes of ash on Mickie’s jacket.
“No one else could survive me blaming them,” Mickie said, looking away. “And I’m the one who told Claire to go.”
Daisy stirred her mocha latte with a dented spoon. Her office/garage smelled of oil, hot metal, sweat and strong espresso. “So you’re the one who got her killed.”
Mickie nodded. She should have told Claire to stay back at their lair, but no, Claire—Chain Lightning to everyone else—just had to take on The TechnoSorcerer on her own. Well, not entirely. Mickie had sent the Doombots with her girlfriend, and an hour later, she lost contact with all other 'bots and the woman she—liked. A lot.
Maybe more than a lot, but she couldn’t admit that. It wasn’t becoming of unstoppable evil. Even if denial sucked.
Claire didn’t come back, and the Doombots were disabled by The TechnoSorcerer’s mind field. Mickie didn’t even have the heart to swear revenge. She just—felt lost.
Daisy rested a grease-stained hand on Mickie’s. “Look, hon, you got two options. Wallow in guilt like a hero, or do something.”
“You’re an antihero—”
“Whatever. You’ve always solved your own problems, right? I know you can’t fix or solve grief. And that’s okay. But what are you going to do with the rest of your life? You don’t have to move on, but you can take a detour for a while and decide where to go next.”
Mickie nodded slowly. “Why did we stop dating again?”
Daisy grinned. “Differing points of view.”
“Your loss.” Mickie managed a deep breath. “Thanks.”
Sometimes it was the little words that were the hardest, unlike ultimatums and grandiose declarations of destruction.
Little words like thanks or stay with me or I think I may love you.
— * —
It had been when she was refurbishing the first Doombot to serve as a butler for her loft apartment that she noticed something was wrong.
Instead of blaring its intention to destroy all lifeforms, the Doombot5000 had stuttered, spit static, and stammered, Where…am…I?
And the voice had been Claire’s.
— * —
It made sense, in retrospect. Like most defeats, Mickie had analyzed everything about her failure and made copious notes (along with plans for revenge):
1. The TechnoSorcerer had an affinity for machines.
2. Chain Lightning could change her body’s molecular structure into pure energy.
3. Doombots had been on the scene.
4. Conclusion: in the resulting showdown, The TechnoSorcerer must have channeled Claire into the Doombots when she attacked, overloading most of the 'bots in an explosion that had left no sign of Chain Lightning and only a few scrapped machines.
There was no fifth point on the list, because Mickie did not believe in itemizing grief.
— * —
No response from the Doombot5000. Mickie shut her eyes. She tried again, “Claire, are you—part of you—in there?”
She heard only the internal hum of the Doombot’s mechanic guts.
She sat back, disconnecting her earpiece.
She did not punch a hole in the wall, or set the ceiling on fire in rage. It was too much work, even for instinctual reactions.
The first Doombot she’d heard Claire’s voice in had short circuited when she tried to extract the memory chip to preserve whatever was left, and since then, Mickie had hunted down all the remaining Doombots to find pieces of Claire’s consciousness.
By her calculations, there were only six Doombot5000s left after they’d been disbanded or destroyed upon her retirement. Before she’d known Claire was in the 'bots, somewhere.
— * —
Five Doombot5000s recovered over the next year—mostly legally—and the sixth one was right on her tracker app: stashed in an old warehouse that, when she checked the online records, had once belonged to The TechnoSorcerer himself.
She spent a week working up plans to infiltrate the warehouse. Invisible suit that repressed her heat signature so she could slip in through a vent? Her joints weren’t what they used to be, and she didn’t want to throw her back out again. Chiropractic visits were not cheap with her pathetic insurance plan.
Build a giant raygun to launch into orbit and program it to vaporize all biological matter without destroying the mechanical elements? She lacked the funds. And besides, he’d probably sense her invention and disable it before she could fire.
Storm the gates with an army behind her, cape snapping in the wind, her blasters gleaming? Still came down to finances, plus the fact she’d be fined for inciting supervilliany within the city limits.
Finally, she settled on the most dangerous option. She’d never been one to do anything less.
Mickie clenched her hands, missing her deathray gun, and knocked on the side door labeled OFFICE.
“Come in,” called a creaky voice she’d know anywhere.
She walked in.
The TechnoSorcerer—Desmond—sat in a battered office chair, snapping his fingers at the TV. He glanced over his shoulder and sighed.
Retirement hadn’t been easy on either of them. He’d let his hair grow shaggy, hadn’t shaved and was using his power to change the TV channels. How far had he fallen?
She shoved her hands into her jacket pockets, unsure where to pose or if the piles of junk and old chairs were stable enough to sit on.
“Long time no see,” Desmond said.
“I guess.” She’d dated him, too, back in the day, but she didn’t want to bring up old conversations. “I hear you have a Doombot5000 in storage here.”
Desmond snapped the TV off and swiveled his chair fully to face her. “I knew this day would come.”
“Give me my Doombot.”
Mickie readied a string of threats, how she would crush him, make seven generations of his ancestors or descendants lament, et cetera, but—it was so much effort, and she was tired. She sat on the edge of the desk and shrugged.
“Well, I can’t pay you much, because I just paid rent.”
Desmond sighed. “I’m barely making ends meet myself. Business just isn’t what it used to be.”
Mickie nodded. There was an awkward silence. Neither of them had the energy to monologue or posture or even trade innuendo.
“Look, Des.” She took a deep breath. “I think Claire is in the Doombots. Parts of her mind, anyway—scattered through all the 5000 models.” Honesty was so much harder when she wasn’t wearing a cape and declaring war on the forces of good. “I’m trying to get her back.”
“Oh.” Desmond rubbed his face, wrinkled hands scratching his stubble. “Damn, Mickie. I didn’t know.”
Mickie shrugged again, picking at her nails. “I didn’t know for a long time.”
Another awkward silence.
Mickie swallowed. “So, I wondered…” She took another steadying breath, her heart pounding like the first time she’d challenged him to a duel. “Can I have the Doombot?”
“Of course you can,” Desmond said. “I’ve felt awful about what happened for years. It’s why I gave up the cape.” He cleared his throat. “I don’t suppose, uh, that is—Can I help you try to get her out? ”
Surprised, Mickie’s first instinct was to spurn his offer, declare she needed no one’s help, ex-boyfriend and former enemy or not.
“Okay,” she said instead.
— * —
“Hi, Daisy,” Mickie said on the phone. “I wondered if you could help me with a project—No, nothing that dramatic. No domination involved. Well, I mean, if you’re up for a little in the bedroom afterwards I won’t say no…”
— * —
In her loft, cables linking all the surviving Doombot5000s together, Mickie’s hand shook as she hooked her earpiece into the first Doombot’s port. She nodded, and Desmond placed his hands on the 'bots, powering them on one by one.
Daisy wiped down her wrenches and screwdrivers. She’d come to assist in building the transfer device. And had stayed the night. It’d been good, like the old days—Mickie had appreciated a distraction for a few hours at least.
Now, the big day was here.
Once the Doombots had come online, Mickie cleared her throat. “Claire, are you there?”
Static. Desmond’s expression crumpled.
Daisy kept polishing. Her wrenches gleamed like lasers.
Mickie stared intently at the Doombot5000’s glowing red optics. “Claire, can you heat me?”
Desmond looked away. “I don’t think it’s working, Mick…”
She clenched her jaw. Relaxed it, and kept going. She had never given up in a fight. She would not stop now. If she had to talk herself hoarse, and then some, well. She’d been champion in her debate team in high school, and had taken vocal lessons all through her career. “Claire, if you’re in there, I want you to know I’m not going anywhere. And I won’t. Not ever.”
The optics blinked.
And then, crackly with interference, Claire’s voice: Mickie? Where am I?
Mickie choked on a mix of maniacal laughter and relief. Desmond and Daisy grinned.
— * —
With her physical body’s original structure destroyed in the explosion and her metaphysical being trapped so long as smaller units of energy in the Doombots, Claire couldn’t reconstitute herself the way Mickie had hoped.
But Mickie wasn’t a (former) supervillain for nothing—she knew how to build robots, and she knew Claire, and so she constructed a life-sized robot-body from the pieces of the Doombot5000s. With Desmond’s instructions and Daisy’s help, Mickie walked Claire through the process of collecting her energy from various machines and transferring it into the new structure.
Blue optics, chassis painted with stylized lightning, wire-spring hair, fully jointed limbs and polychrome skin, Clairebot tested out her range of movement in the loft. Daisy gave Desmond a hug, and he laughed and returned it.
“I’ll make us some espresso,” Daisy said, tugging Desmond by the hand. He coughed and followed her into the kitchen.
Mickie held out her hands. “Hi, Claire.”
Claire took Mickie’s hands in hers. “Hi, Mickie. Thanks for sticking around.”
“You want to stay?” Mickie asked.
Claire smiled. “I do indeed.”
Mickie blinked away construction dust from her eyes as they started to water. Maybe retirement wouldn’t be so bad now.
© 2017 Merc Fenn Wolfmoor
Originally appeared in So You Want to Be a Robot (Lethe Press, 2017)
Reprinted by permission of the author.
About the Author
Merc Fenn Wolfmoor is a queer non-binary writer who lives in Minnesota. Merc is a Nebula Awards finalist, and their stories have appeared in Lightspeed, Fireside, Apex, Uncanny, Nightmare, and several Year's Best anthologies. You can find Merc on Twitter @Merc_Wolfmoor or their website: http://mercfennwolfmoor.com.
Their debut short story collection, So You Want to be a Robot and Other Stories, was published by Lethe Press (2017).