A semi-circle of children sat in front of a man in spandex and plastic, their attention rapt. He regaled them with stories of heroism and the lessons of virtue. The colorful walls and play-rugs with wild designs gave the illusion of a classroom.
The kid might not see through it, but all of their bald heads were a constant reminder to Cody’s father. On top of that the hero’s voice was all wrong, nasally and not heroic in the slightest. It made him want a cigarette. The shining heads reminded him why he quit in the first place.
Amongst the other kids, the hair, the IVs, that hollow smell of sickness and bad food the kids didn’t notice. This was their life. White coats and teary eyed adults and really good ice cream. Now they had brought him Electrobuzz in the flesh. It really wasn’t all bad. So long as they didn’t want to poke him or make him eat peas again he felt like he could stay here for ages.
A few weeks later Cody sat on his bed, barely able to sit up. His hands rested on his chest, messing with the toy on his lap. The bald robot glistened under the harsh fluorescence in a cold silver that really didn’t look like metal.
“Okay Cody,” Dr. Hopkins said. “We want to try something new for you.”
“Why? New made me sick,” Cody said.
“Well this is a super-secret treatment. One no one in the world has gotten to try yet. Except for a few monkeys who really liked it.”
Cody raised an eyebrow.
“Do you know what ‘nano’ means?”
Cody shook his head.
“Nano means super tiny, too small to see. We want to use nano-bots,” Dr. Hopkins said, taking the toy from Cody’s lap. “We want to send little robots into you, guys like him but shrunken down. We’re going to send them in to go beat the cancer. To kill it dead.”
“But it’s just a toy.”
“Really? Could have fooled me,” Dr. Hopkins said and knelt at the edge of the bed. She brought out the voice of the robot.
Cody giggled, then started coughing. He tried to keep giggling as the doctor went deeper into her act. When Cody started choking the doctor stopped and patted him on the chest. “Okay, let’s calm it down a bit,” Dr. Hopkins said.
Theresa, the boy’s mother glared at the doctor. Her nerves were too shot to have a sense of humor.
“I tell you what. I think all of our little bots are going to need a leader. Medivox is a big brave robot isn’t he?” asked the doctor.
Cody nodded again, face red from the coughing.
“This particular Medivox is spectacularly special. He’s your friend and he’ll work especially hard to help you. Can I take him, shrink him with the rest of our robot army? I know he’ll kick so much butt,” Dr. Hopkins said.
“Yeah! But I need another one,” Cody said.
The doctor looked to Cody’s mother. She pursed her lips but nodded.
The doctor burst up from the bed. “Well then, let’s get started,” she said and ran to the office across the hall. She grabbed a nurse by the collar and yelled, “Get my shrink ray!”
The nurse rolled his eyes and followed the doctor into the office. She handed the nurse bedpans and mimed hitting them like cymbals. They both started making a racket, flashing the lights on and off.
The kid giggled, looking at the strobing light show. Dr. Hopkins ran back in the room with a finger up. “Look real close! He’s here,” Dr. Hopkins said.
“I don’t see him,” he said, startled.
“That’s how you know it worked. He has to be able to wander around in you. He’s got to go fight the bad little cells, so I’m going to go put him in the glass. I hope you’re excited for tomorrow. No radiation or chemo, only a robot army and ice cream.”
“Fuck yeah,” The mother said under her breath.
Both Cody and the doctor stared at her.
The glass vial was filled from top to bottom with silver destroyer bots. They stared at Medivox with intent eyes and weapons ready. They wanted direction, needed to kill. Medivox had never seen so many droids, and all were strangers to him. They didn’t know Cody. They didn’t understand what they were fighting for.
“My very small friends, please link with me,” Medivox said.
Column after column of robots settled into its place, dull glowing eyes showing down corridors millions of nano-bots deep.
“You are new to this world, so I know your circuits ache only seek and destroy. It is in our nature. We do the bidding of masters we’ve never known because they’ve imprinted on us with their will,” Medivox said. Millions of small stabbing injectors shot up, made humming noises in agreement.
“I’m asking for more from you. I’m asking that when we go in there, when you see the crazed muck you’ve been sent to clean, that you remember who and why we are,” Medivox said. A light flashed in his chest and a video of Medivox and the boy playing showed on the screen. A video of Cody and Medivox defeating dinosaurs together, trips to the pool, and dozens of other memories.
“This is Cody, and without all of you, he will die. We’re facing an insane enemy. One that grows and consumes without regard to this boy. Every moment it swallows more of him. It’s tearing him apart from the inside,” Medivox shouted.
“I need all of you. Every last one. I need you to save my friend. I need you to enter the darkness with me and slay every last blasphemous cell. This is a fight without quarter. None can survive if Cody is to live. Do you understand?” Medivox asked. A flurry of robots started to swarm in the tube. They weren’t advanced enough to speak to him, but the surging throng of millions of synchronized robots coursing in the vial was all he needed to see.
The world started to spin as the vial containing them clicked into place. Each drop drew thousands of bots into the IV. The drain finally grabbed Medivox, and he shot into darkness.
This fluid world felt wrong to Medivox. He knew it would be part of the mission parameters, he wondered if he would ever see the sky again. Instead he barreled through corridors of tissue and blood. He grabbed a red blood cell and the current took him away.. He passed through the boy’s heart, loving each healthy beat that pushed the robot forward.
Sprawling chunks of cells followed him through. Medivox took aim with his new arm weapon and blasted. The sludge burst into pieces and fell washed away.
On his bed, Cody scribbled on paper. A figure of a crude grey robot inside of red and pink tunnels took up the center of the page. On the far side, a black smudge with spikes and tentacles reached into the tunnels after the robot.
Behind the robot, dozens of grey circles fired yellow lasers at the monstrosity and its fledglings. This page was like dozens of others. Cody had so loved the idea of robots in his heart that it consumed every waking moment.
In the office across the hall, Dr. Hopkins stared at MRI images and charts labeled Cody. She removed her glasses and failed to hold back sobs. Cody’s Mom and Dad clutched each other closer.
In the dark, Medivox began to have doubts. It had tracked through the depths of organs and down thousands of capillaries. No matter where he went, or how many cancer cells it blew apart there were legions more. The stubborn growth in Cody’s skull had nearly taken them all out.
On the outer edge of the pancreas, Medivox amassed thousands of bots. The entrance to the small organ looked like rotten hamburger; it was hard to tell where the cancer started and the flesh began. Medivox shook its head.
The bots around him shivered and twitched. Some clacked their lances together in anticipation. They were cold savages, maulers of the alien cells, and Medivox took comfort in their Spartan tenacity. Medivox drew his power sword and pistol and let out a monstrous war cry, kicked off of the cell wall and went to war.
Foster shouldn’t have been out here. He took in the cold night air between fiery drags on his cigarette.
He stepped into the boxing gym. Old friends looked up and smiled, offering him hugs and reassurances. He made simple gestures but walked through them to his locker. He wrapped his fists.
Coach came up to Foster and put a hand on his shoulder. Foster shrugged it off. A decade of time told the coach all he needed to know. Sometimes a man needs to let the fire burn. Sometimes he just needs to hit something.
A massive man working on a heavy bag. The coach came up to him and said, “Come on, John, I know it’s not sparring day but I need you to do this for me.” He whispered the details to John and the big man nodded. He was four weight classes higher than Foster, and coach needed someone who could take a beating.
The men climbed into the ring, gloves strapped on. Foster stood in his corner, cold and still. They walked to the center of the ring and touched gloves. The smaller man started throwing massive punches into John, who deflected, moved and absorbed them.
Foster wasn’t here for a human heavy bag. He tapped his chin with the glove, biting down on the mouth piece. John obliged, responding in kind with punches, peppering the smaller man with accuracy more than strength. Foster dashed forward, throwing a right cross right to John’s mouth, splitting his lip and drawing blood. The old rule in boxing is you hit as hard as you want to be hit when sparring. John opened up again, striking Foster with body shots, bloodying his nose and bruising him with each punch.
The entire gym gathered around the ring, watching this roundless side show. Foster started to get more erratic, throwing inaccurate but heavy. Big John grabbed Foster, pulling him into a clinch. In that bear hug with the bigger man, Foster started to weep, the tears streaking down with blood and snot. He whispered something to John.
“What?” John said.
“Doctors aren’t supposed to cry, John,” Foster whispered, and pushed out of the hug. He fell to his knees and pounded the mat. “Not about my baby. Not about anything. What the fuck do you do when there is nothing left? When an entire life shrinks to the size of an instant?”
In the ring’s spotlight, Big John’s shadow loomed long over the weeping man, a mountain swallowing the light. He knelt down and put a gloved hand over Foster’s shoulder. They met eyes, both bruised and bloody. “I don’t know, brother. Only thing I can say is Cody is half you. That half is a stubborn little shit who has a chin harder than iron. You told us to have faith in you back in the day. Back in fights with Carlson and those guys. Maybe you just have to have faith in the boy,” John said.
The coach climbed into the ring and took a knee next to them, as did the others in the gym. “You told me that night the fight was over when you were dead, and not a second before. Are you really not gonna give your boy the same chance?”
In the dark of the gym, Foster wept. His friends came around and knelt with him. Some prayed, others shed tears with the man. In his weakness he felt shriveled up, a shadow unable to fight against the unyielding currents of time. He begged whatever gods may be for a moment, a second for the world to slow down and just acknowledge his pain. To let him catch his breath. It never came.
On the bed, a frail boy with no hair was surrounded by dozens of flowers. Machines beeped in perfect but slow rhythm. A woman spoke to her son, not knowing if he could hear. She told him stories about brave robots and strong boys. Foster just held the boy’s hand and told him how to fight.
On the IV, a new vial of nano-bots slowly entered his body.
Each heartbeat pulled a little softer, took him around the body slower. The robot looked at his ragged bots, worn down from cancer cells, battles with confused white blood cells, and so much more in the dark reaches of Cody’s body. Its own armor wore thin, and it pondered its own demise. His circuitry only showed darkness but it couldn’t be sure.
The cancer had gone scorched earth everywhere it touched. The source seemed to be endless and invisible, but they had to be making serious progress. Some of the tissues were regenerating, but the body damage was so far and wide.
The robot wandered to a main artery and let itself go, following with the blood cells, searching for anything it could do. It passed into the right arm, feeling cleaned by the saline and other fluids, then an odd noise surged from behind. The Medivox turned and the artery was being filled up with little grey machines. In seconds the robot’s entire field of view burst into a grey swarm. Between the small openings, a green substance started sticking to cancer cells, illuminating them. The moment of illumination caused a piranha swarm from the bots, who tore it to pieces.
The illuminating fluid surged through the veins, marking every path and cell that needed to be destroyed, and the bots followed their orders.
The robot lowered the battle shield over its face and blasted into the fray.
On another cold autumn day, Foster and Theresa sat on the edge of the bed looking through crudely drawn images of robots and splattered cells. Using some yarn from the classroom area, they punched holes in and made it into a book.
The last pages showed a tired looking Medivox inside a bright red heart. Theresa decided to pick up the crayon. The last page needed something more.
The glowing trail ran upward, and with all haste the Medivox broke through into the cavernous dome of the skull. In the center where the brain hemispheres split, a monstrous reaching growth waited. It spread like a sick world tree, digging its roots into the crevices where it could.
The markers plastered the roots, making it glow high into the chamber. Though it was only millimeters, on the cellular level it stretched further than the robot could see.
He flew all the way to the bone ceiling, watching the throngs of robots charge and devour the cancerous monstrosity. Small shocks of electricity illuminated the floor below.
With a last robotic shriek, Medivox sliced downward, carving directly into the hulking mass. There was no angle to the destruction, only the wild flailing and puncturing, slicing, gouging, and incinerating of the deadly mass. The bots burrowed like mechanical termites, and the great monster was rended to pieces at the hands of Medivox and his army.
When the boy awoke for the first time, he cried and begged for a hug from his mother and was immediately buried under his family’s love
The second time he awoke, it was when the nurse was drawing blood from him. He immediately squeed, asking when Medivox would be back. The nurse blinked his eyes and took the sample into the office. Giving his mightiest performance to date, he and Dr. Hopkins blew up the sample, bringing the robot back out.
The boy struggled mightily to stand but his smiling dad held him down. “Soon enough you’ll be back up, kid. Don’t mess up the tubes,” he said.
Dr. Hopkins handed Cody the toy, warm from being in the microwave for ten seconds and covered in what looked like jelly.
“I felt you in my brain! And everywhere else,” Cody shouted, hugging the toy. “You saved me. Mom, Medivox cured me! When can I go home?”
Dr. Hopkins brushed off her shoulder and smiled. She could handle not being credited this time. She walked out of the room, watching the family smile. It would be some time before they were whole again, but the healing had already started.
Tony hails from the Rocky Mountains somewhere around the state of Colorado. Possibly raised by grizzly bears, this gritty denizen of the arena now spends most of his time grappling with Java updates and dysfunctional RAM. With not much fiction under his belt, it might seem tempting to bet against Mister Southcotte, but an impressive knowledge of everything from PVC pipe to psychedelic drugs makes Tony a storehouse of fiction waiting to hit the paper. Plus, you know, there’s the possibility of him ripping you apart like a grizzly bear.
- Lifetime 6 – 5
- 2015 Season 2 – 3
- 2014 Season 4 – 2
Secret Move: Paper Dragon