“Doctor Cruciere, after careful analysis of the prototype hull of the C.S. Hydra, I have deduced that its performance could be improved by several orders of magnitude were it not in the shape of a donut.”
The assistant nodded her head toward the craft, hanging from several cables and attended to by various black and red robotic arms, screwing and unscrewing bolts, painting and unpainting plates, removing and reinstalling sheets of layered depleted uranium armor, in a general confusion of industrial assembly. The disorder of the robot arms mirrored that of their commander, who grit her teeth and grumbled lightly while inspecting the unfinished vehicle after each minor change.
“Argh. Well alright, fine. Fine Asmodeus! Let me see your data.”
Asmodeus raised her clipboard sheepishly, or as sheepishly as an artificial human with no capability to show emotions on her face could raise a clipboard. Her superior, standing a head taller than her favored assistant, swiped the clipboard from her hands and pored over the results. The data spoke for itself – on every performance diagnostic, the Ladybird simulation would use the central hole to help her bifurcate an area of the craft with her arm-blade. Constructing a craft with equal density on all sides and no obviously thinner or exposed areas would help protect against such an attack. There were several proposed new designs, all of which abandoned the whimsical donut shape for standard vehicle chassis.
Cruciere threw the clipboard over her shoulder, hitting the wall of the cubic assembly lab.
“Naaaah.” Cruciere said, patting down Asmodeus’ long indigo pigtails. “That’d be boring.”
“As you say, Doctor Cruciere.” Asmodeus replied. “I would advise that if we are keeping the donut aesthetic, we should perhaps make sure that the four segments of the donut are equally weighted–”
A fiber cable suddenly snapped. One rounded edge of the donut-shaped craft crashed into the laboratory floor and broke through the metal and concrete. It shattered a pipe beneath it. Silver gas streamed into the lab.
“–Because right now that side is far heavier than the rest.” Asmodeus finished.
Dr. Cruciere snapped; she thrust her hands overhead and stomped repeatedly in frustration, spinning a slow 360º as she did so. The repeated stomping left deep dents and dings on the solid steel, and her high heels shattered under the assault, causing her to slip and fall. She crashed with gargantuan force and shattered another pipe.
Such was the lot of Dr. Anne-Marie Cruciere, the world’s foremost everything, by her own accord.
She contemplated her failings while recovering her breath, but it soon turned out that she was recovering a toxic byproduct gas, judging by the burning in her throat and the collapse of her lungs. As her organs struggled to keep from becoming mush, she struggled to her feet and turned to the doorway. Alerts and biohazard sirens blared all around. She made toward the door with a weary gait, sighing blood, eyes tearing up, feet dragging, exhausted from the cellular and psychic agony of the day. All the while she thought of how little progress she had to show for this gas accident.
The doctor and her assistant exited out to one of the adjacent office modules, Asmodeus having to carry the doctor for the last few feet over the door and unto an office chair. Asmodeus dutifully sealed the door behind them and activated the vents. Following procedure she put a sticker on the door: “Toxic Gas.” She then marked an X on a checkerboard paper on the wall – another assembly unit lost to contamination. Protocol thus thoroughly followed, she took in a deep breath while her pale, smooth features slowly melted away into a puddle of white fungoid goo and soft indigo foam.
“I apologize for my failure to prevent this lab accident,” bubbled the goo, inexplicably retaining speech. “Doctor, if you would be so gracious, may I request my next form also have indigo pigtails?”
“You always have the same form.” Cruciere replied calmly, croaking as her lungs and voice box degenerated. “Amanda likes that one too much. Our pleasant family life would break down if I changed you.”
Cruciere’s red hair started to turn gray from the gas damage, and her brown skin grew an ever more sickly gray with each passing minute. Her lips started to crack, their bright red color becoming more blood than lipstick. She raised her hands over to her face expecting some unforeseen horror and felt her elegant jawline and nose– completely unchanged.
She smiled pleasantly, hugging herself with elation and bobbing on her seat.
“My bone structure and skin were always the best part of me. It’s both flattering but also annoying, because I didn’t make those. Still, a testament to the heightened genetic craftmanship in 2113.” She grabbed hold of the long tuft of red-turning-gray hair covering her right eye. “Now this though, this is annoying, because I did make this, and it SHOULD be better. What was that gas?” Cruciere grumbled. She hit a button on her desk that made the room whirr.
Asmodeus’ puddle bubbled and spurted. “I believe it is perhaps the byproduct of our unwise decision to use mercury-based ion engines to provide kinetic power for some of the lab modules. If I recall, Doctor, and not to mean any disrespect, but you believed that mercury was ‘cooler’ than Xenon, and ‘less boring’ than alternatives.”
Cruciere frowned. “Well, it’s also cheaper than alternatives and easier to find.”
Robotic manipulators stretched from a nearby wall and removed Cruciere’s contaminated lab coat, sweater and pants, providing fresh alternatives and sending the rest to the burning room. They also provided a helpful cup for Cruciere to spit her mercury-contaminated blood into. Thankfully her brain was insulated from it.
“Alright, where is the thing? Do you have it?” Cruciere turned a critical eye to the robot arms and asked them. The robot arms shook in response before retreating through the wall. “I guess it’s in the desk then.”
She searched through the desk drawers, already feeling the contaminants trying to stream their way toward her highly guarded and enhanced brain-case. Pulling out drawers she found levels, rulers, bottled fetii and other everyday necessities for the lab, as befitting generic, mass-produced Cruciere Offices. Finally she found the strange purple device she required; a handle on one end, a needle at the other, and a miniature circular centrifuge with three very thin tubes in the center. One contained a white goo, the other blood, and the center a clear fluid. A pair of miniscule glass bridges connected the outer tubes to the one in the center. Cruciere pulled the trigger on the device, revving up the centrifuge. When she held it, the device spun so quickly that its center became a blur, and were it anyone but Cruciere holding it, their wrists would have probably flown off with it. Instead, the blood and goo coalesced, passing bit by bit through to the connected center until they became a black liquid.
Cruciere happily injected the substance. Within seconds she could already feel the cellular repair at work. Her hair and skin had a very slight glow, and soon the lush brown pigment returned to her body. She scooped up all her waist-length hair, hugged it against her chest and smelled it, and took in the bright red. Perfect.
She threw the centrifuge needle over her shoulder and it shattered against the wall.
“What is building in lab 12? That’s what we’re up to right? Twelve, right now?”
“The C.S. Pillbug ‘Heavily Armed Excavation Vehicle’ or HAEV.” Asmodeus bubbled.
“Ew. No. I really want to finish the Hydra.” Cruciere lamented.
“Room decontamination will take a few more hours. Perhaps you should visit your partner.”
The doctor suddenly felt very uncomfortable with that cold phrasing.
“Hey, um, I know this is weird, but uh, you have to call her Mom, okay?” Cruciere scratched her head, perplexed at how necessary she found it to correct Asmodeus’ altogether correct statement.
“I am an artificial humanoid that is mostly fungoid in nature.” Asmodeus replied.
“Yeah, but uh, you know, that doesn’t mean you can’t have two moms. Call her mom.”
Asmodeus foamed. “Rewriting social protocols to retain Mom-based information.”
Cruciere sighed deeply. “Don’t tell her we wrecked another lab too.”
“Rewriting ‘Lie To [Mom]’ protocols to add additional lies.”
Cruciere sighed ever more deeply, until she felt she had sighed out all the remaining mercury.
* * *
Far upstairs from Cruciere’s laboratories was the mansion at 42-A Hillberry Manor in the very upscale Upward Newfork. Things had gradually ceased falling out of the sky at Upward Newfork, and the world changed. People knew now of Ladybirds and Crucieres and other things, and many of the neighbors had grown more skeptical of each other. But they retained their code of never talking about other’s Rich People Business. Not even about Amanda Gilded’s R-P-B’s; the one person in Upward Newfork who still had things falling out of the sky to her mansion, every so often.
Today was her first corporate teleconference, and Amanda had dressed up professionally, with a blazer, a long skirt, and even a hot pink tie. She’d pinned up her strawberry pink hair to her head with a pair of decorative chopsticks, and decided to wear her glasses instead of her contacts for that added extra layer of techie, Tungsten Valley smarts. Across from her on the 80 inch plasma screen, appeared a disheveled, square-jawed blonde man in his pajamas.
“Amanda, can we just not do this at 6:30 AM, please?” He begged.
“Early to bed, early to rise, Michael,” Amanda chirped, “As the new owner of Noodle Technologies Inc., I want this to be the work ethic that drives our company from now on, from the top to the bottom.”
“Yeah, well, you know, that whole trick you pulled with the stocks, the fellas don’t really appreciate that kind of big money power playing. We liked our old boss plenty, Josh was a good dude.”
“Who are ‘the fellas’?” Amanda asked politely, “Because the shareholders gave me the company.”
“The shareholders that don’t actually work on anything!” Michael protested.
“Josh should’ve read on Neutralpedia about how stocks work.” Amanda said, in a cheerful but subtly sharp tone. “And about how shareholders work, too! Then maybe he’d still be in charge.”
“Yeah, well, I know the real reason you got the company.”
“Oh, why is that?” Amanda asked, her cheerful face never once waning. “I hope you don’t say it’s because I’m pretty. I’d be flattered, but I’ve also been a majority shareholder and business executive for ten years, and I think that was a big part of it! But I want honesty to be a big part of the company, so please, do go ahead.”
“Because–” Michael suddenly stopped, looked over Amanda and cowered.
“HELLO, DOCTOR. GOOD DAY, HUH?” He continued, waving his hands.
Amanda looked over her shoulder at Cruciere, who bared her teeth from the doorway to the conference room.
She pointed behind Michael, where a small spider-legged white drone entertained itself crawling up on the walls, finding different vantages by which its personnel railgun could perforate Michael’s brain and cause a variety of interesting blood spatters on his desk, the conspicuously very white walls, and other features of his office.
“Just a heads-up, it doesn’t sleep, but you do.” Cruciere said, an edge to her voice.
A blue laser dot appeared on Michael’s forehead. The drone waved a leg at Cruciere.
“Anne-Marie!” Amanda clapped. “We were just getting some of the post-hostile-take-over angst out of the way. I’m sure Michael and his ‘fellas’ will be happy to work on wonderful new Noodle tech soon.”
“Hopefully real soon.” Cruciere said. “Because I think all of Tungsten Valley would explode with joy if a bunch of Noodle Inc. positions suddenly opened up for a new generation of code kids.”
“No need for that, definitely!” Michael replied nervously.
“I’ve got many new ideas for exciting new cloud-based products.” Amanda said.
“Yeah, sure, the cloud,” Michael said, “That whole cloud thing. We’ll totally do that.”
“Listen to her,” Cruciere said, “She’s got some really good ideas. I do too. But I’d rather do my ideas myself. You and your buddies would just screw them all up. Amanda’s though, they’re simple enough.”
“Sure thing.” Michael said, looking behind himself and waving at the spider, who waved back.
After the conference room screen went dim, Amanda retrieved a small tablet computer and ecstatically pushed it toward Cruciere. “Look, stock prices are up to 900 Amero a share.”
“That’s because you’re a visionary, honey.” Cruciere said.
Amanda seized Cruciere and kissed her. “I love you! Ahhh I’m so happy. It almost feels as though this is what I’m destined to do. As though you’d really come from the future to show me my rightful place.”
“No, I told you I came from the future to take over the world.” Cruciere said. “And to stop nuclear proliferation that will leave the future a barren wasteland and humankind ill prepared for an alien invasion. Everything else is just because you’re a visionary. And because I love you too.” Cruciere said, turning fiercely red in the face.
“Of course.” Amanda replied, nuzzling up against her.