Tessa groaned and wound the sheets around her head, hoping the noise would go away, but it wouldn’t, the clamorous ring of her TeleBand just keep going and going, the greenish light of its screen flashing as it strove to get her attention. She fumbled her arm out of the mummified cocoon of her sheets and groped for her glasses on the bedside fresher, fumbling them onto her face and falling with a thump onto the floor as she writhed like some bizarre linen caterpillar across the floor to the Teleband.
Cold metal and worn leather were felt against her fingertips and she sat up, the sheet falling around her slender, shirt-covered body as she hit the answer button and squinted through the thumbprint on her glasses at the tri-d, metal face that appeared, hovering, over her wristband.
It was Robur, her partner, a 41st interation 124C model Metalman, not very lifelike, but an effective partner and a good ‘man’ to have on your side in a fight.
“Robur… you do understand that humans have to sleep right? I have to get eight hours natural a week rather than hypersleep or I’m no good to anyone.” Tessa pulled up the hem of her nightshirt and wiped the lens of her glasses so she could see more clearly. He was just a Metalman, he wouldn’t care about a little flashed skin.
“I am sorry maam but Captain Newton was most insistant that I contact you. We have a Code Prometheus incident at the BioVat facility on the corner of Gernsback and Capek. The proctors are containing it at the moment but they want Science Police on site as soon as possible.”
Robur’s voice became more and more annoying the longer he spoke for, that grating buzz of an artificial voicebox was especially irritating before coffee and breakfast.
“I’ll be there as soon as I can Robur. Have the proctors set up a perimeter one block around BioVat and deploy Mag Screens for containment. I’m on my way.”
Tessa slapped the TeleBand and cut him off, stepping up out of the cocoon of sheets and peeling off her nightshirt.
The daybulbs glowed dimly and slowly built up to full brightness as she crossed the room to get her uniform. She paused a moment and wrinkled her nose at the sight of herself in the mirror. Short curly hair, Buddy-Holly glasses, a figure so slim and boyish that if it wasn’t for the way her hips moved everyone would think she was a man. She was strong though, despite being slight, flexible and fast and – most importantly – brilliant. They’d wanted her to go into research, her parents, but the Science Police was where it was at, safeguarding the advances of others and protecting the city from the terrors that lay beyond the dome.
Tessa pulled on her foil cap and stepped into the ion shower. There was a hum and a tingle as the electric stream and a gust of air blew away the top layer of dead skin cells and she hopped back out, pulling on her uniform. Royal blue trousers a size too big for her, a black blouse and white tie, her gunbelt with its ionic pistol and her long white lab coat. Lastly she strapped her Science Police band to her other wrist and checked herself in the mirror. It would do.
Tessa threw open the window and stepped out onto the balcony, pressing the button on her TeleBand to summon a police disk. Below her the whole of Science City Zero was laid out, a glittering panorama of lights and sounds, the shining beacons of cars, planes, disks and balloons. The spires of the banded towers, the web of their skywalks and transit tubes. Above it all the great arch of the dome, the night sky barely seen beyond it, only The Moon bright enough to compete with the scintillating, kaleidoscopic glow of the city.
The disk arrived, swooping up to her balcony on dim pencil beams of force. Tessa leapt aboard and swept down over the city, heading as fast as she dared towards the incident.
Tessa swept down out of the sky and jumped from the disk, leaving it to flit its way to another appointment with a sudden surge in velocity. Fishing in her pockets she popped a caffeine and a breakfast pill from her dispenser and strode purposefully up to the line of proctors, waving to Robur as she did so.
“Ah, greetings Maam.” The Metalman waved to her, his chassis gleaming beneath the daybulb streetlights, all burnished blue-steel and armoured rivets. He was surrounded by proctors in their heavy armour, lightning guns in their hands as the finished establishing their perimeter.
“The cordon has been thrown around as you requested, the incident appears to be contained but there is ongoing violence within the BioVat building. Spy-Ray examination reveals several unidentified hominid-like forms and several scientists inside, perhaps hostages. There’s interference from the fires and electrical shorts, so that information is only seventy-percent accurate, for which I apologise.”
Tessa turned to the proctor captain, looking up, her neck aching as she looked into his faceless helmet.
“We’ve surrounded the building with ten megawatt energy screens and have deployed three units in a cordon around the building, there to back you up should things go pear-shaped maam. Captain Newton has ordered us to cooperate fully, but we’re only to enter at your behest.”
Tessa popped another caffeine pill, she had a feeling she’d need it. As she swallowed she unbuckled her holster and hoisted out her ionic pistol, checking the charge and the settings, nodding to Robur to do the same.
“What do we know about BioVat Robur?”
“Independent biological research and development company maam. They research into synthetic life but their bread and butter is creating synth-men for biological experimentation.”
“Brainless clones for medical research… who’d attack a medical facility?” Tessa scowled and marched up to the line, gesturing the proctor on duty to take this screen down when they went through. Robur pulled his own pistol and stood beside her.
“Three, two, one…”
The crackling screen faded out with a low buzz and the two ran forward, the light slap of her All-Stars contrasting with the heavy clank-clank of Robur’s feet. He wasn’t exactly stealthy. The screen came back up behind them, sealing the area behind an impenetrable screen of force and they slammed up against the wall, either side of the door.
Robur’s steely head nodded, once, the glow behind his eyes intensifying and then he stepped around, kicking the revolving door out of its housing and sending it sliding violently across the foyer to smash the reception desk to smithereens.
Inside it was chaos, full of smoke, fires burning here and there, showers of sparks as cabling burned and shorted. The ground was slippery with a pinkish goo and the cause was readily apparent. Deformed, cancerous, muscles ballooned to ridiculous proportions, the synth-men had broken free of their containers. Twisted, like hairless gorillas, veins pulsing, rage in their eyes, the handful in the entrance turned their incoherent anger on the interlopers and leapt to the attack.
“Does not compute!” Robur cried with what sounded like genuine anguish. “Synth-men have no brains… no conciousness!”
“Worry about that later!” Tessa darted inside, sliding on a slick of the pinkish goo and ducking under the tree-trunk arm of one of the synth-men. Her ionic pistol hummed in her hand as she twisted, sliding on her bottom across the chequered floor and firing, a blue beam of coherent electricity striking the synth-man and hurling him to the far wall with the stink of ozone and bacon.
The remaining synth-men bounded and leapt, roaring like jungle apes as they moved. Tessa scrambled out of the way as one landed on the spot where she had just been. Thanking blind chance that she was as small and slight as she was. Where it landed the floor cratered, muscle so dense it must have weighed twice as much as it should and been in unspeakable agony, crushed by its own muscles. Robur shot the other out of the air deftly with his pistol, playing his beam across the creature’s chest until he was sure it was still.
By then the third had gotten its meaty paw upon Tessa and had her by the ankle, hauling her upside down before it’s face, ape-like fangs bared as it roared, spattering her glasses with spittle. There was a crash nearby as Robur slammed into the remaining synth-man before he could recover, bearing him down to the ground and pounding his neanderthal brow with fists like hammers while Tessa twisted and struggled.
Blinded by the spit she felt its other hand grasp her around her head, the span of its fingers sufficient to pluck her cranium from her spine as though it were plucking a grape. She tried to calm herself, to remember her scientific boxing lessons and then she lashed out with all the strength she could muster, slamming two of her knuckles one side of the synth-man’s head and the butt of her pistol the other, just between the ear and the jaw.
The creature roared and dropped her, she landed awkwardly on her shoulders and back, upside down, lifting the ionic pistol and blindly firing between the creature’s legs. The roar became a howl, high pitched almost beyond hearing and this time the ozone stink was mixed with burning hair as the thing dropped like a felled tree.
The bone-crunching noises of Robur’s fight also came to a halt and he strode over to help her up.
“Are you alright maam?”
“No thanks to you. Why didn’t you attack the one that had me?”
“I knew you could handle it maam, within a ninety-three percent probability anyway. Taking the remaining problem out of the equation seemed the best course of action.”
“There’ll be others, we need to get to the lab where the spy-ray saw the scientists.”
They nodded to each other and ascended the stairs two and three at a time, heading back through the offices, blasting left and right as more of the synth-men emerged from the side rooms, blinded by pain and rage there was nothing they could do but put them down.
“This is monstrous, whoever did this is a sociopath.” Tessa growled as they stood back to back, blasting away at the tide of muscle that dogged their every step, climbing over the bodies of dead office workers and the remnants of destroyed desks as they finally got back to the factory doors.
They burst through and slammed the metal doors shut behind them, standing on the gantry that lead to the control chamber, beneath them a sea of tubes, many of them broken, filled with the pink plasm that supported the synth-men growth, but there was only one inside. A brute bigger than any other they had seen, towering over the cowering scientists in the control room.
“Hold the fort Robur, I’m going to get the scientists.”
The Metalman nodded and slid his arms through the handles, bracing back against the door as it rang like a bell, massive fists hammering from the other side, roars and snarls of frustrated as the iron and steel of robot and door refused to give, though it began to dent.
The hulking synth-man turned, one eye massive and yellow, larger than the other, one whole side of its body larger than the other. Clumsily it turned and loped towards her as she marched towards it, ionic pistol raised.
“Science Police, surrender to impartial justice!” She gave the warning, even though she knew it couldn’t understand. The body of a monster and the mind of a newborn.
Predictably, it ignored her and began to run, a lopsided lope towards her.
Behind her Robur channelled his own power into his chassis, electrifying himself and the door, shocking the synth-men hammering on the other side to death, his whole body arched and glowing, heating up from the power coursing through him.
For her part Tessa kept marching on the giant synth-man, depressing the firing stud on her pistol, the blue coruscating light struck the creature full in the chest, burning its flesh, charring its skin, but still it kept on coming, teeth bared, marching into the ravening beam as though walking into the wind.
Tessa stared, disbelieving as the massive creature came closer, closer, closer and reached into the beam, burning off one of its own fingers to snatch the pistol from her hand. It grinned in triumph as it crushing it like a drinks can in its maimed fist but Tessa didn’t miss a beat, swinging her leg back, then forward and planting the very toe of her boot into the mass of dangling flesh between the things legs. It grunted and she grasped, and pivoted, using its own off-centre weight to hurl it from the gantry to plummet to its broken-necked doom amongst the shattered tubes below.
The fight was over, the scientists in shock and useless as witnesses. They called in the proctors to guide them out and put out the fires, that left them free to look over the control room without interference. It was a wreck, a mess, evidence was hard to come by in such a disruption of blood and wreckage, but they divided it up into sections and went through it methodically, despite Tessa’s aches and pains. This was where a Metalman came into his own, they couldn’t experience boredom and his mechanical precision was an inspiration.
It was Tessa that found it though, breaking open the feeder mechanism to the MONOVAC she ran her fingers down the mass of punch-cards and felt the hard edges of newer cards inserted into the sequence.
“What do you make of these Robur?” She plucked the newer cards out of the feeder, tucking torn pieces from her notebook into the gaps to mark the spaces.
The Metalman took the cards and fed them into his universal slot, shuffling them like a stage magician as they flew into his slot and his tubes and switches cogitated with a noisy flickering, digesting the information.
“They’re plasm codes maam. I am no expert but according to my interior library these sequences relate to muscle, bone and nerve tissue growth, including brain tissue. I conjecture that…”
“…someone introduced a little Mr Hyde into our mindless Doctor Jeckylls.”
“So then, there’s no question.”
“None at all maam.”
Tessa tossed the remaining punch cards angrily onto the floor, spilling them everywhere, kicking the pile so it fell between the slats in the gantry and turning back to Robur, stabbig her finger into his impassive face.