Max Star didn’t like being here. The Valiant’s headquarters was massive, even though it was mostly just a gypsy camp composed of dilapidated buildings slapped together with massive sheets of plywood and scrap metal and tents composed of dozens of huge sheets of blue tarp held together with little more than zip ties, all draped over rickety frameworks of metal and PVC pipes. Longs chains and lengths of rope stretched from top corners down to the ground where they had been hammered in place with huge pitons.
Over 90% of the structures were sized for their massive frames with just smaller (ha ha) portions of it purpose built for humans when they had reason to visit these other-worldly beings. It felt less like David vs. Goliath being here and more like an insect amongst gods, which he absolutely detested.
At the moment he was riding an elevator from the ground to a raised gantry walkway, one of the more recent additions to the camp, chains clanking through cog wheels, metal support struts groaning and literally every moving part shrieking for lack of proper lubricant in the scorching sun of the badlands. The practical side of it was to keep any human visitors safely out danger of being stepped on, while the physiological effect was to bring the humans up to about waist height of an average bot. Max tried to keep from finding it insulting as he stepped from the lift and onto the gantry. Being this high up was supposed to make the humans find the bots less intimidating and feel like they were more of an equal. Max didn’t feel like much of an equal as he approached the railing where he found his escort, Aegis, waiting for him. Aegis was the smallest Valiant Max had seen, the shortest bot that Max had actually seen period. The last time he had visited, Duke had been here to greet him and the gantry had put him at about mid thigh, the Valiant leader was so huge. With Aegis on the other hand, Max was now standing at shoulder height. He thought it odd that the smallest bot be placed in charge of security, but on the other hand being of a smaller height allowed one to get into places others couldn’t. Made better sense to have assigned him to scouting missions, but whatever. He was far from being in charge of the place.
“Good to see you again Mr. Star.” Aegis intoned, stepping forward, the blue visor covering his eyes reflecting Max’s image back at him. “How can I help you sir?”
“Don’t call me sir, I work for a living.” Max was careful to keep his tone slightly jovial, hiding his disdain. While the Valiants had been instrumental in repelling the Atlantican invasion, he was of the opinion that the bots in general had brought far much more trouble with them than they had helped solve after their arrival. “My team and I did you guys a solid a few months back and your General Duke promised to repay the help when I needed it. Well, I’m cashing in my marker.”
Aegis seemed to pause for a moment. “Very well. How exactly can I help you in that regard?”
Max thinned his mouth into a straight line. “The Freedom Eagles been having some cooling issues. We’re having problems keeping the heat down for extended flights. Got anything for me that can solve it?”
Aegis seemed to cock his head to one side for a moment as if considering the possibility. “Not me personally, but Steelia might have the answer your looking for. Follow me to her workshop.”
Aegis turned and began to walk along the wide path. Max slapped a big red button on a control panel attached to the guard rail, activating an uneven conveyor belt system built into the floor. Since the bots were so much larger Max would have had to run in order to keep up. With the conveyor belt system he was able to keep pace with his escort at a simple walk. One just had to mind their step with the slightly uneven and off-kilter belt that acted as the walking surface. He also winced slightly at the mention of ‘her’. How did a race of robots even have genders? A computer programmer with a voice synthesizer could assign a voice to a program, but regardless of the gender of the voice, a machine was still a machine. Max squashed the xenophobic feelings down. That kind of thinking was just the same shortsightedness that had led to some of the greatest tragedies of mankind. Don’t question it, just accept something as what it is, he told himself. At the end of the day, the Valiants were still their allies (the enigmatic Beastlords and so-called Trashers a bit less), and there was no need to look a gift horse too closely in the mouth when the Democracy found itself surrounded on all sides by hostile forces. Atlanticans, Snake Corp., Deceivers, Infesters and even now he had recently heard reports of strange titanic creatures, once again from outer space, making landfall and picking fights with anything moving in their eyesight. The good and decent folk of mankind weren’t exactly up to their ears in good fortune.
As they traveled along, Max was thankful that Aegis wasn’t the chatty type. During other visits to this place he’d had various Valiant bots escorting him around, and while some kept their words to a minimum, others were just regular Chatty Kathys, the ones called Trafficstop and Herbs in particular. The large and bulky Ironskin and Phantom both seemed to have a few wires crossed. Max marked it up to the two of them watching far too much TV. Having a fancy cable package might be the pinnacle of entertainment for some people, but he’d much rather be behind the wheel of Freedom Eagle, soaring the skies.
Finally arriving at what must have been the machine shop from all the sounds of hammering, whirring and buzzing that had steadily risen in volume over the past few minutes as they drew closer, Max looked inside to see the orange form of Steelia leaning over a set of bubbling beakers with green and yellow fluids contained within. Electronic screens and meters showed a variety of measurements being taken, needles climbing to redline then falling with hisses of steam and glowing dots drawing dancing lines across their screens. Steelia muttered something under her breath and typed some notes onto a keyboard next to her, strange alien words appearing on a large monitor sitting against the wall.
Aegis stopped a respectful distance away. “Steelia, we have a visitor.”
Steelia stopped and looked up from her studies. “Ah, Max Star, you caught me at a relative lull in my research.” She stepped away and approached the platform Max was standing upon where the gantry had dead ended. The Democracy hero kept his eyes on Steelia’s, refusing to look around like the trapped animal he felt like. “How can this humble servant of The One assist you this day?”
Max cleared his throat, remembering that he needed to speak up to be heard by the taller of the bots. “I’m looking for an advanced cooling system I can install in my car.”
Steelia turned her head towards Aegis, eyebrow raised in silent question.
Aegis explained, gesturing towards the human visitor. “General Duke apparently promised Max here a favor as repayment for some assistance he lent our forces earlier.”
Steelia straightened up, placing her hands on her hips, the vestigial spikes from her stay with the Trashers glinting in the light that broke through the gaps in the structures roof. “Ah, well that explains that. What your looking for is a Trans-digital Freon Converter. Unfortunately, the only spare I currently have on hand is far too large to fit in your vehicle.”
Max reached into his jacket and pulled out a 5 inch floppy disc. “Just the blue prints will do. I have a guy who should be able to do something with them.”
Steelia considered the request for a moment, then shrugged her shoulders, gesturing to Aegis, who gingerly took the pro-offered disc from Max and carried it to the computer bank, inserting it into the jury-rigged slot for human tech. Steelia called up a data directory, selected the appropriate file and pressed the load key.
“You know,” Steelia said, turning to Max and bending at the waist slightly as she peered down at him, “this cooling system is really rather strong, usually used in rocket systems. The standard liquid coolant circulation system you humans usually use in your vehicles should be enough for your needs.” Max began to open his mouth in reply when Steelia’s eyes snapped open in recognition. “Oh but thats right!” She exclaimed in excitement, “Your car has been modified to fly, I nearly forgot! You know, I recently created a wearable jetpack that made use of a miniaturized Trans-digital Freon Converter, all highly experimental of course. I threw it together on the fly, didn’t really even write anything down. Wish I still had it, but Forgefire was in a real pinch so I let him have it. Thankfully he contacted me not too long ago and said that it worked like a charm! Well, at least it did until it didn’t, of course, it really wasn’t meant for extended use.”
Max slowly closed his mouth, carefully controlling his expression. He made a mental note to mark down Steelia as a chatterbox as well.
Steelia raised a hand to her chin and looked up at nothing, visualizing equations in her mind. “Now that I think about it, if I were to…oh but then it wouldn’t…but if I increased that ratio by two fold it could solve that issue…maybe…let me see…” Steelia began to mumble to herself as she wandered over to a corner of her workshop and began to fiddle with some components, Max and Aegis now clearly forgotten. The computer bank beeped and ejected the disc, which Aegis handed back to Max and escorted him back to where he had met him.
Once clear of the encampment he quickly strode to the Freedom Eagle, eager to put the Valiant’s headquarters behind him. Climbing in, Max keyed the start up sequence and let it run through systems checks as he strapped himself into the safety harness and donned his flight helmet, plugging the radio wire into the satellite connected system.
Rocket thrusters flaring, Max took to the skies, pointing the nose of his heavily modified vehicle in the direction of home, then flicked a switch which would connect him with his team mate Jack Macgyver. If anyone would be able to make heads or tales of these other-worldly plans, he would. There wasn’t a gadget or gizmo yet that Macgyver hadn’t been able to get working, even if it was held together with chewing gum and paper clips.
By Steven Remington