Authors: Phil Hester,Jon S. Lewis,Shannon Eric Denton,Jake Bell
By Jake Bell
Created by Shannon Eric Denton, Phil Hester, and Jon S. Lewis with
Megamatrix: Hero Within
An Actionopolis Book
Published by Komikwerks, LLC
1 Ruth Street
Worcester, MA 01602
Megamatrix: Hero Within (c) 2010 by Actionopolis, LLC. All right reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
Cover illustration by Armand Villavert, Jr,
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination, or if real, used fictitiously. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
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If he was anyone else, he'd be terrified. Fortunately, Android 7's programming wasn't capable of processing fear. He could access definitions of the word from hundreds of dictionaries and translate it into thousands of languages--even rare and extinct dialects no one on Earth could understand--but he could not experience it.
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The security measures upstairs were no match for Technein. The villain's ability to disrupt any electronic system could have gained him access on his own, but his band of thugs were celebrating their inevitable victory by smashing everything in their way. Nothing was left unbroken or unvandalized.
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Of course, the longer they took to destroy things, the longer Android 7 had to finish his last heroic act. If he was programmed for gratitude, he would have been thankful.
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Android 7 reached behind his ear and tugged at the connector cable affixed to the base of his skull. With a few keystrokes, he shut down the computer that took up an entire wall of the underground cavern. As the screen faded into darkness, Android 7's visual input devices switched to an infrared mode so he could find his way safely back to the surface.
He didn’t have time to waste. As he barreled up the narrow passageway, small explosives detonated behind him, collapsing the tunnel on itself and sealing off the computer – and more importantly, it’s data – from the villains above. Finally, he stepped out onto a balcony overseeing the grand hall of the Global Defenders headquarters... or at least what was left of it.
Smoke and dust filled the air, but Android 7 could see perfectly as he scanned the room in every spectrum, cross-referencing the visuals with an ultrasonic sonar-like detection system. Walls crumbled, video monitors shattered, and the villain Napalm leapt on the splintered remains of the Global Defenders' meeting table with great delight.
Android 7 understood that humans attached emotional meaning to objects, even if he couldn't comprehend why. Even though he didn't feel anything, he suspected his teammates would had they been alive to witness the scene.
The table had been the most enduring feature of the headquarters. The team roster changed, the uniforms got redesigned, and technology improved, but the meeting table had been the same since the team was formed in 1957. Archer claimed the wood had been cut from the tree that was used to make King Arthur's round table at Camelot.
"Toss that over here," Napalm demanded with a squeal of laughter, pointing at a glass case near the wall. One of the dozen henchmen snatched an old uniform that Liberty Torch's sidekick, Freedom Girl, had worn back in the 1970's. He pitched it to Napalm, who gripped it in his fist.
Napalm's entire forearm exploded, destroying the keepsake in a blaze of yellow and orange. The supervillain cheered and dropped the smoking threads of the uniform while his arm slowly reformed at the elbow.
There was a commotion as more henchmen stormed into view while Napalm laughed again. A wall-sized glass case shattered across the marble floor, Android 7 made his move. Leaping over the balcony railing, he transferred power to the impactor arrays on his forearms. Before he landed, he fired his first shot, hitting one of the hired thugs squarely in the chest and hurling him into another with enough force to send them both sliding twenty feet across the marble floor.
Three other confused thugs caught rapid-fire blasts before they could comprehend what was happening. Android 7's analysis told him Technein was relying on regular, non-superpowered henchmen with the exception of Napalm. That made sense. While Android 7 would have an easier time fighting off street-level hoods, the outcome was inevitable, so why pay the super-powered muscle? Android 7 would lose this fight. He would die--inasmuch as a non-living machine could die. There was no reason to invite competition for control of the city.
"Get him!" Napalm shouted. Android 7 didn't need the noise to pinpoint Napalm's location, but it helped. The robot's back split and exposed the barrel of a cannon that erupted before Napalm could react.
Napalm vanished in an explosion that took out the entire wall, bringing the balcony crashing into a pile of rubble. Android 7 rolled out from beneath the falling debris and took aim for the next set of Technein's henchmen.
A strange noise, like a wounded duck, oozed from the barrel of the impactor ray. Android 7's processors began running diagnostics, but he already knew the problem.
"What took you so long?" Technein said. "We've been tearing this place up for ten minutes." The squat crime boss strode calmly toward the malfunctioning robot. The rest of the hired muscle stood back, intimidated by one of the least intimidating figures anyone could imagine. Technein barely stood five-foot-five and always seemed to be nervously licking his lips. His greasy hair and buggy eyes made him difficult to look at, though his presence demanded attention.
"Four minutes-seventeen seconds," Android 7 corrected as he lay on the floor. The servos that controlled his movement weren't responding, leaving the android jerking about as he tried to face his enemy.
"Is that all?" Technein said, gesturing to the destruction around them. "That's a lot of damage for four minutes and seventeen seconds."
Android 7's technology was advanced, but it was no match for Technein. The short, greasy villain smiled at the struggling android with his rat-like teeth. "This is the end, isn't it? After all these years, it's finally over." Technein stood up straight and got scratched his chin in deep thought. "Though, I guess this is really the only way it could end when you think about it."
The thugs who'd been knocked out by the impactor rays staggered to their feet and joined Technein by Android 7's side.
"Superheroes are not killers," Technein went on. "That's the one rule we could always count on. No matter what a superhero did to you, you weren't going to die. Sure, you'd go to jail for a time, but it wouldn’t last forever. Right?"
Android 7's systems started reporting critical errors as he malfunctioned, but he could still hear everything Technein said. The supervillain made sure of that.
"If you'd had the guts to kill these guys . . . to kill Napalm. Heck, even to kill me--well, you wouldn't be in the fix you're in, would you?" Technein pointed out. "Fortunately, I have no such qualms about you or any of your super friends."
Technein knelt so he could get face to face with Android 7.
"You should have heard Lord Trident at the end, begging Napalm for mercy."
"By the beard of Poseidon!" Napalm groaned weakly, still recovering from his explosive run in with Android 7's cannon.
"We flash-fried that fish," Technein said with a laugh. "Of course, that doesn't really matter to you, does it? It's not like he was your friend. I mean, you're incapable of having friends, and that's why I always thought you were the dangerous one. You're an oversized calculator with a bazooka, and I always worried that
one dayyou'd do the math – that you’d figure out the only way to win this war was to drop that silly no-killing rule and start cleaning house."
"If I became a killer--BZZT--" Android 7 managed to say, "--I'd be no bett--1110100101--better than you. The math is simple. A hero that kills--BZZT--does not equal a hero at all."
"And a hero that isn't willing to face reality, isn't a hero for long," Technein replied as he stood up. He signaled his men, who went to work dismantling the last superhero on the planet.
As a boot crushed into Android 7's ribcage, the last superhero felt something unfamiliar. Perhaps, he thought, it was a result of the supervillain's tampering or a malfunction of his central processor.
A preliminary scan indicated the feeling was most likely sorrow. In his final seconds, Android 7 reviewed 17,394 images of his former teammates and recalled the memories attached. Could it be possible these were the “happy” memories his human counterparts had told him about? He queried his central processor, but received no response before it shut down for good.
Technein stepped outside the front door of the Global Defenders' headquarters, though he could have simply climbed over the fallen walls. With a smile, he licked his lips and gazed on the city that was
nowhis for the taking.
Napalm followed him, handing his boss the lifeless head of their last enemy, as wires hung from Android 7’s severed neck. "What's the plan now?"
"Now?" Technein answered. "Now, you and those jerks tear this place apart until there’s nothing left. I have a big day ahead of me, so I think I'm going to get some sleep."
"Where are you going?" Napalm asked. "The penthouse or the place out in the suburbs?"
"I was thinking the mayor's mansion probably has a really comfy bed. I don’t think he’ll mind if I borrow it, do you?”
Fletcher Bolt threw his shoulder into the small of his brother’s back, knocking Josh through the front door of the barbecue restaurant. He got the wind knocked out of him and nearly chipped a tooth, but it was better than the alternative.
A car fell from the sky and smashed into the sidewalk where they had been standing just seconds before.
“Hey, you kids, get out of here,” the owner’s wife shouted from behind the counter. “No loitering!”
“Give us a minute,” Fletcher barked. “They’re throwing cars out there.”
“You want to hide in here, you’re gonna have to buy something,” the large, loud woman insisted. “I know you ain’t got no money, so get out!”
Fletcher shared a frustrated look with Josh as they picked themselves up off the floor.
“Come on,” Josh said, pointing at the plate glass window with BAR-B-Q painted on it. “It’s not like we’re going to be any safer behind that. If they throw another car this way, we’ll get crushed
sliced to ribbons.”
“Thanks for nothing,” Fletcher snarled as the boys bolted outside.
“You’re lucky you didn’t break my door!” she screamed after them.
The street was quiet, and that wasn’t a good thing. When there was noise, you knew where to watch out.
“Get to Miguel’s,” Fletcher hollered. “We’ll hide in their basement until it’s clear.”
Of course, Josh didn’t need to hear his brother’s orders. Hiding in Miguel’s basement was where they always went when chaos broke out, and lately it was chaotic all the time. Their mom liked to stare out the window during times like these and tell them about what life was like before the supervillains won.
The way she told it, people used to go outside after dark, and there was money to buy needless things like books and silver discs with movies on them. She even said Fletcher used to have some toys when he was little, but he didn’t remember them. He was only four when Technein destroyed the Global Defenders. Josh wasn’t out of diapers yet. In the thirteen years since, neither one of them had anything like the world their mom described.
As the boys raced down the cracked sidewalk, they looked for whoever had thrown the car – not that it mattered. There was no end to the amount of superpowered jerks who fought with each other over what usually amounted to nothing much.
Josh got to Miguel’s house first and pounded on the door. By the time Fletcher got there, Miguel’s mom had unfastened all the locks. “What are you doing out there?” she asked as the door swung open.
They made their way down the steps with the clatter of latching locks behind them. Miguel was already there, standing on a chair as he peered out a window at street level. “Here it comes,” he announced. “Mom, get down here!”
The building shook as something exploded outside. She was already halfway down the stairs, but her knees buckled and she stumbled the rest of the way.
“Are you okay?” Josh asked.
“I’m fine,” she said, straightening her skirt.