by Dan Swanson, based on a concept by Tynnechris
Even a machine intelligence, when deprived of input by total sensory deprivation, might pass the time by replaying memories, and the human mind of Gloria Giles Farley — her human engrams having been transferred from her brain into a positronic brain — had many lifetimes of memories to replay. Yet the memories of the last few seconds before she found herself in her current state played over and over in her head.
In the last three trillion nanoseconds before Vandal Savage had switched her off, Mekanique had been busy. Savage thought that locking her away from her body and all its capabilities and resources had left her helpless; she hoped he was wrong. In her desperation, she had suddenly realized that she might have access to resources of which he knew nothing, and she was now attempting to tap those resources.
Will Magnus, the second Robotman, had tried to use nanites to invade her body. She had been horrified and had quickly broken the physical contact between herself and Magnus. (*) Her own nanotech was now denied to her, but was it possible that some of Robotman’s nanites might remain on her skin and that she might be able to find and control them?
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Suicide Squad: Path of the Immortal, Chapter 11: Horror Unleashed.]
She had several complex problems to overcome.
The sensors in her Limbo fortress were not designed to provide the magnification required to detect nanites. But even in the twentieth century computer enhancement of photographs had produced miraculous results, and her own technology was far superior to that. And her human mind was orders of magnitude better at pattern recognition than any computer ever built. If there were foreign nanites left on her skin, she would find them. And she did. Some of them appeared to be damaged, but there were perhaps a million that appeared to be operational, at least from the outside.
Finding them wasn’t enough, she had to control them. Magnus must have employed radio control, but she had no idea what frequencies. She went back and searched her memories of that period. One of her extra-robotic senses was the ability to hear radio. During the short attack, she had not recorded any clear radio signals, but careful analysis revealed that the recorded static level was louder than normal. Once again, her human pattern recognition ability paid off. What sounded like white noise in the VHF region was really extremely low-power encoded signals.
Finally, she had to decode those signals and learn the command codes Magnus used. What one intellect could encode, another could decode, especially when the second intellect could think millions of times faster than the first. She was more than a little surprised to recognize the language — it was a primitive version of the language she used to control her own nanotech. Apparently, Will Magnus was the father of the nanotech industry as much as Gil Bates had been the father of the personal computing industry.
She immediately took command of the operational nanites and directed them to enter her body and assemble inside a single cell in her positronic brain, then power down and await further commands.
Her musing was interrupted by a signal from one of the nanites. The exploration was complete, and her tiny army had a situation report for her. She listened intently, then set them to work on the next task.
As she had hoped, her positronic brain had been placed into the empty Robotman body, then shrunk and embedded in amber. Exactly as he had gloated, Vandal Savage was using her as a replacement for his most favorite memento of the past. Her hearing center had been reconnected, the better to hear Savage’s boasting, as he had often boasted to her paperweight predecessor, Jimmy Hoffa.
She ordered her nanites to begin connecting the rest of her senses and motor controls to those of the Robotman body that was, for the time being, her body. She would get the original Mekanique body back — she swore it — but in the meantime she would have to make do with what little she had been given. She had studied the Robotman body intently and probably knew more about its capabilities than the original inhabitant had. It should be able to do what she needed it to do.
The first task completed was restoring her access to the sensor system, and she soon learned more about the plans of Vandal Savage and Futura — the original brain of the self-aware robot invented by Rotwang who was now back in Mekanique’s body. They couldn’t undo the time-change she had caused, but they had determined that they could introduce additional changes that would produce yet another altered timeline in which Metropolis would once again exist. To do this, they needed an army of considerable power.
One of the holds had been rebuilt as a cybernetics lab, and there were over forty android bodies under construction. No, as she observed more closely, she realized that they were merely being modified. The head of each android had originally contained a sophisticated radio-control center, and Savage and Futura were gutting these control centers and replacing them with primitive positronic brains. Even more primitive than the Futura brain, she thought with satisfaction, nowhere near the complexity or power of her own. The droids all had flashy costumes, and on several occasions, while Futura was testing her work, they displayed super-powers.
Even driven by her own mind, the Robotman body at only four inches tall couldn’t prevail against an army of over forty super-powered androids. She was going to have to modify her plans significantly.
Not long after the battle of Yorktown, on one of her off days, Theresa Knight tracked down Rexford Tyler in his lab. Rex wasn’t very good at reading people, but even he could tell that his teammate was really excited.
“Rex, I found it!” Star Lass practically shrieked.
There was only one thing that could make her that excited, he knew. “Knight Base?” guessed Timepiece. “You sure?”
About a hundred years ago, a producer named Tracy Knight — a distant relative of Theresa’s — had become infamous when she had committed the most heinous of antisocial acts, the capital crime of refusing to pay her taxes. The voting public was outraged by the widely reported news stories about Tracy. All members of society had to pay their fair share, or society would fall apart. Before the entitled lynch mob could reach her, Tracy Knight managed to escape from Earth in a home-built spaceship she called the Knight Sky, which was powered by a variation of the cosmic rod.
Over the years, Tracy had assembled a crew of other rogues and outcasts, and they became folk heroes known as the Wanderers, their story much like a modern Robin Hood legend. The legend had even mentioned Knight Base, a secret sanctuary on an asteroid in a distant solar system, built and equipped with ultra-advanced technology.
Several Guardian expeditions had failed to capture or destroy the Wanderers, as had two separate missions by the Legion of Justice. Only the fact that the second mission had been under the direct personal command of General Wildman — at the time the Supreme Arbiter of Federal Justice — had saved the Legion, though Wildman had been publicly executed for his failure. It was at that time that General Urbane took command.
Then the Wanderers had disappeared. Several years later, the Guardians announced that they had been captured. The media reported that a Guardian spy had infiltrated the group and sabotaged the Knight Sky, marooning the Wanderers on an uninhabited planet. The stories the Wanderers told during their trials completely contradicted the legends and proved conclusively that the Wanderers had been nothing more than vicious space pirates. Tracy Knight confessed to everything and died begging for forgiveness.
It was still dangerous to even talk about Tracy Knight and the Wanderers, but the legend was alive and well among the members of the Knight family. They knew the capture, trial, and confessions had been rigged. That hadn’t been Tracy, no matter what she had looked like. They believed that Tracy Knight and the Wanderers were still out there somewhere.
And Theresa was determined to locate the legendary Knight Base. She had shared this ambition with some of her teammates. And now, she was indeed sure she had found it. She nodded.
Timepiece knew that his laboratory was free from surveillance devices; he swept it regularly with detectors of his own design and protected it with a number of other devices of his own invention. So he spoke freely.
“You have the coordinates?”
She provided them. He mentally checked the upcoming duty schedule.
“OK, you, Canary, and I are scheduled for downtime next Tuesday. Let’s do it then.”
“Great! I’ll tell Gina to get ready.” She left the lab smiling. Rex hoped her good humor wouldn’t make Urbane suspicious of something. Still, as a member of the disgraced Knight family, Theresa did have a lifetime of practice at concealing her emotions.
Rexford Tyler had recently invented a device he called a boom tube. The only other people he had told about it were Gina and Theresa. The rest would find out when the time was appropriate. It was not that they weren’t trusted — well, except for Burroughs, maybe — but what they didn’t know, they couldn’t reveal. The others, they were sure, had similarly close-held secrets.
A boom tube allowed instantaneous travel between remote points, even across light years. It was difficult to use; the calculations needed to precisely synchronize the device to two locations, light years apart, took several hours even on the fastest supercomputer in Tyler’s lab, using a custom computer operating system with artificial intelligence he called Gernsback, which he also kept a complete secret from General Urbane and Amgov. Rex put Gernsback to work calculating two solutions for specific times on Tuesday — getting to Knight Base and getting back.
Mekanique commanded the nanites to completely rebuild the interior of her new and temporary body. They weren’t advanced enough to incorporate all the improvements she had planned to make if she were doing the rebuilding in her own lab, but the next time she confronted Vandal Savage and Futura, she would have some surprises for them. While the upgrade proceeded, she continued to spy on her foes.
Futura and Savage were assembling an army of super-powered androids named the Legion of Doom, which they had stolen from the future, and they planned to invade the timeline from Limbo in early 1988. According to Futura’s calculations, this was their last chance to take advantage of the instabilities introduced by the Crisis on Infinite Earths in mid-1985. Stability was returning to the timeline, and if they acted at exactly the right moment, they could reshape the malleable future in their image.
Finally, Mekanique had all the information she needed, the updates were completed, and it was time to go. She flexed her enhanced mechanical muscles, and the amber trapping her shattered. She had thought about hiding her escape by leaving a duplicate, but she wanted Savage to know just how easily his greatest enemy had slipped from his grasp and regained her freedom. She activated her new antigravity system, powerful air jets blasted from the soles of her feet, and she flew to the control panel. She danced carefully across the keyboard, activating a complex program.
The scenes on the time monitor started changing, randomly jumping from one time to the next, one location to the next. There was no discernible pattern. The armored portal out of Limbo swung open for a few seconds each time the scene in the monitor changed, allowing access to the randomly selected time and space, then closed, and the monitor changed again. She prepared herself and slipped out, and the program continued to run. Her former captors would know she had escaped into time, but there was no easy way to determine when in time she now existed.
On the other hand, Mekanique had written the program, and it delivered her from Limbo exactly where and when she wanted to be: the year 2284, Knight Base, a year before the Legionnaires arrived.