Cold Metal, part 2
by Michael Hutchison
The Story So Far
Well, when we last left our heroes, Doc Magnus had reprogrammed Platinum to remove all trace of emotions from her responsometer and has just ordered her to retrieve the responsometers of the remaining six Metal Men.
For those of you who missed part one, you can read it HERE.
As Platinum walked towards the assembled Metal Men, Mercury caught a glint of red light in her right eye. "What's that thing on her face?" he asked aloud, his annoyed curiousity distracting him from his fear.
Lead, standing beside him, was the first to get a good look at it. "It's that responsomomometer finder-thingy Doc uses when he works on us."
Platinum squinted, activating the ocular device. From her perception, Mercury became a murky silhouette, with a red marble-like object floating inches behind his nose. Various readouts on her optical screens told her the exact mathematical location of Mercury's responsometer.
Mercury huffed, glaring at Lead. "It's called, you mumble-mouthed ignoramus, the Responso-GAK!"
Platinum's hand had suddenly telescoped the ten meters between them and penetrated Mercury's face. Mercury gave her hand a cross-eyed glare as she groped around inside his head. "No! No, give me that!", Mercury shouted as he used his internal strength to grip his responsometer. Two of her fingers formed a vice and clamped onto his r-meter. As she began to draw it from his head, Mercury sprouted a big appendage from his forehead and clung to his hardware for dear life. The two began a tug of war over the shiny red object, Mercury never breaking contact with it. "Ng! Let! Give! Gah!"
Gold shook himself from the shock of seeing Platinum turned against them and moved to grab her arm, but Magnus shouted, "Stop, Gold. I order you all to not interfere with Tina's work." Unable to defy their creator's direct order, the Metal Men could only watch the pitiable fight.
Mercury put up a valiant struggle, but the liquid metal was no match for the toughest of the Metal Men. Indeed, his tenacity was the only explanation for his lasting more than a second. By now, he'd wrapped both of his arms around the small glowing ball. Little by little, he was losing his grip until only a few syrupy strands were connected to his responsometer. In his last moment of existence, Mercury turned to Tin and glowered. "Hmph! Told you I'd be next!"
With that, Mercury lost contact with the responsometer. His body, deprived of its artificial suspension, rained to the ground in a second. Red dots of liquid splatted on his companions' bodies. Nameless pulled herself closer to Tin and whispered into his ear, "What do we do now?" Tin, in turn, looked to Gold for an answer.
Mercury's body was losing its red glimmer, slowly returning to its original polyalloy. Without the responsometer's mercury sample to bond with, the polyalloy was only a muddy, bluish-white paste, puddling on the floor.
Platinum offered the responsometer to Dr. Magnus, who indicated a tray on a far off table. She extended her arm on a coil of thin wire and placed the device in a circular indentation. There were five more such indentations in the tray.
Gold grabbed the shoulders of Lead and Nameless and shoved them towards the battered doorway. "RUN!" he shouted, as the team began racing from the lab.
They'd gotten no more than 20 meters down the hall when they heard Magnus' angry bellow. "As your creator, I order you to stop!! I mean it. Not another step!"
The Metal Men screeched to a halt, despite their every urge to run for their lives. Platinum appeared in the doorway and began walking towards them.
Iron watched as a tiny laserbeam shot out of Tina's ocular device and traced his responsometer to his upper chest. The laser beam pinpointed the r-meter's location. The beam intensified, now heating the metal to burn a path to the device. "Umm Gold? Do you have any ideas? Fast?"
Nameless grew some small nails on her fingers so that she could bite them. "What can we do? We must obey a direct order from our creator! It's in our programming!"
Gold's eyebrows shot up with inspiration. "Yes 'from our creator.' But how can we be sure he is our creator? He's been acting very strangely lately." The other Metal Men began nodding their agreement as he continued. "How do we know he isn't a clone sent by a rival corporation to shut us off and steal our technology?"
Tin caught on. " or his evil twin brother, working for a foreign government?"
" or a Manhunter android?" Lead winked.
" or under the mind-controlling influence of giant, telepathic robot spiders from Pluto " Nameless added " again?"
Iron was using his hand to delay the laser beam's penetration, but it had already punctured his hand and continued its path into his chest. Platinum was only a few meters away. "So what you're saying is that, until we get proof that that guy in there's the real Doc Magnus, we don't have to obey him!?!"
"RIGHT!" Gold planted a right hook on Tina's chin, catching her off-guard and knocking her back down the hall. "Everyone get out of here!"
The Metal Men ran out of the rec room. Iron punched an override code and secured the door. Within seconds, a heavy pounding began denting the door from the inside. Gold flattened his back and braced his heavy body against the door. Lead climbed a nearby ladder to the gantry above. Once he was perched above the door, he gave the OK sign to the others.
"We're in big trouble, gang. Platinum's probably the toughest one on the team. Fortunately, she doesn't appear to be at peak performance without her emotions. I think we can outwit her." Gold paused as a particularly vicious thump caught him unawares. "Here's what we do: Tin, Nameless head for a phone and see if you can contact General Caspar. He may be able to intercede on our behalf. Also try the Pentagon, the United Nations and those reporters from the Daily Planet. Failing that, your secondary objective is to reach the saucer. The rest of us will attempt to give Platinum the run-around, maybe even disable her if we're luc-"
With an ear-splitting boom, the door crashed apart, sending Gold flying. Tin and Nameless raced for the main hall. Tina emerged from the rec room, focusing her sensor beam on Gold.
"Geronibungaaaaa!" Lead shouted, leaping from the gantry and forming a large lead ball. He smashed into Tina, partially flattening her. Lead landed and immediately changed shape to become a large, bell-like enclosure over Platinum. "Okay, guys, I got 'er, I got 'er. What do ya want me to do wit' 'er?"
Gold and Iron both frantically waved their arms, shouting simultaneously. "No, No!" "You can't trap her." "Get out of there!" "Don't you realize "
As Lead tried to decipher their comments, a red glow seemed to play around on his body from the inside. It finally settled on one spot, growing brighter and larger. Suddenly, Platinum's fist punctured the spot with Lead's responsometer clutched in her fingers! As his body began to lose electrical contact with the r-meter, Lead took one last look at her fist. "Oh I'm just not a smart mannnnnnn " Lead's body turned to sludge, revealing the triumphant Platinum. As the alloy slowly sloughed from her body, Platinum took a few steps from her former enclosure and regarded the r-meter in her hand then turned her attention to the others.
Gold and Iron ran for the door. "Split up." Gold said as they entered the main hall, "She'll follow one of us. The other has to get the saucer prepped so we can all leave."
"You've got it." Iron replied.
Tin and Nameless rode the elevator up to Magnus' office suite. Tin glanced down to see Gold and Iron running into the deserted main hall. "Is this such a good idea? It doesn't take two of us to make a phone call. I could be helping them though I'd probably just get in their way."
Nameless patted his hand. "You're such a worrywart. They'll be able to handle Tina. But we've got to break into Doc's office to get the General's number."
Platinum rolled Lead's dull gray responsometer in her hand and began to head back to Magnus' private lab with it. Then, spotting one of the many handy vacuum tubes which littered the factory, she dropped it in a container and sent it to the lab. Turning around, she spotted Iron and resumed her pursuit.
As Iron raced down the corridor towards the Metal Man Project Production Facilities, he could tell Platinum was following him. He finally found the door marked "Research and Development Lab Alpha" and punched his access code. The door opened. Once again, he locked out the passcode from the inside, then he turned to survey the room. Large metal barrels were stacked to his left; a precision workbench with a plasteel display was at the center and another door could be seen to the far right. Iron raced for the barrels and pulled one off the top. He glanced at the side to read the insignia:
MAGNUS ROBOTICS INC.
SYNTHMETAL SYMBIOTIC POLYALLOY ver 3.1B
Iron wrenched the top off of the container and watched the viscous alloy slosh and settle. He pressed the keypad set into the side of the container; an electrical spark flared in the small vat, and the pollyalloy began to shimmer.
He turned his attention to the table. At the center of the workspace was a display case with a multi-tiered lazy susan. Each shelf held an array of new responsometers, some completed, some awaiting further work. He pressed the arrow button at the bottom; the responsometers rotated, some glittering, some glistening. Iron spotted a dull white one and released the button.
Iron smacked his lips. "There's the piece of cheesecake I wanted!" he remarked. Not having the keycard to access the display, he put his fist through the thick plasteel.
Tin stood outside the heavy wood door leading to Magnus' office, rubbing his chin. "I'd hate to bust the door in if we don't have to, but it's sealed. Not even a crack to slip through!"
Nameless was speedily flipping through the secretary's Rolodex. "Well, we have to get in. I can't find the numbers in here. I think his secretary switched to computer files ages ago, and without a password I can't access those."
Tin eyed the alphabetical keypad. "Why don't people just use good old keys anymore?" he asked, changing each of his fingers to a skeleton key to illustrate his point. "Do you have any idea what his six-digit password might be, Beautiful?"
Nameless shrugged. "You've known him longer than I have. What does he like to do for fun?"
Tin sighed. "Nothing he talks about."
"Doesn't he have any hobbies? Interests? Family or loved ones? He might have used one of their names. Or favorite movies?" To each question, Tin could only shake his head. "What a sad man. He sure doesn't seem to like anything outside of robots."
Tin snapped his fingers with a small clink. "Of course!" he exclaimed,
Nameless shot him a puzzled look. "What's 'Azzymove'?"
Tin held the door open with a flourish. "Isaac Asimov is the author who created the Robotic Laws we're all programmed with!" Tin's expression sobered. " like, the law that we must obey humans."
After a great deal of pounding, the door to the R&D Alpha Lab gave way enough that Platinum could spool her body through a small hole. As she re-formed inside, she saw that Iron was no longer there. All she found was an empty barrel lying on its side and a shattered display case. She also noted that much of the electronic equipment had been used recently, including the activation platform imbedded in the far wall.
There was only one other door exiting the lab. Platinum opened it and followed. Many of the rooms in this section of the factory had fallen into disuse; the increasing robotics workforce had lessened the need for locker rooms and the many other accoutrements required by humans. The break room which adjoined the lab was rarely used, the scientists preferring the furniture and coffee machine of the main lounge. She walked past the dropcloth-covered furniture and approached the old locker room.
The locker room was dark. Platinum flipped the lightswitch, but nothing happened. Upon closer inspection, she could see that Iron had ripped the wires out of the wall. Platinum ignored the darkness and activated the ocular device. It didn't allow her to see the room any more clearly than before, but she spotted the responsometer hanging in midair. She could even see Iron's silhouette in the center of the room, waiting to ambush her. In seconds, she turned her arms to strong coils and enveloped him in a tight straightjacket of looped wire. The lights suddenly came on.
It wasn't Iron.
Platinum found herself staring at a Metal Man she'd never seen before. He was heavyset and pasty, and his body was so soft that her strands began slicing through his torso. He stared at her with the innocent smile of a newborn which, in fact, he was.
Iron was at the other door, releasing the lightswitch. In his hand, he held one wooden match. He struck it against his head and held the igniting flame against the sprinklers in the ceiling.
Iron smiled at Platinum as she tried to extricate herself from the soft robot in her arms. "Tina " With his left hand, he gestured at the new Metal Man. " meet Sodium!"
The sprinkler system began to drench the room, and Iron hurled himself into the corridor. As the torrent of water hit Sodium's body, he gave off a tremendous cloud of sodium hydroxide. The remaining hydrogen exploded.
Platinum was hurled against the tiled wall as the locker room became an inferno. The sprinkler system helped to put out the flame, while Sodium's body continued to erode and give off more explosions. Within thirty seconds, the emergency droids arrived and began to spray firefighting foam around the locker room.
Iron looked through the broken door into the blazing room. He saw Sodium's sorry responsometer lying in a puddle; even it was on fire, as the sodium sample it contained hit the water. "Sorry, Sodium. I hope your next activation is more peaceful."
A giant, glistening fist shot out of the flames and knocked Iron into the wall. Platinum emerged from the inferno; her surface coating appeared molten, but she was obviously not deactivated. Indeed, even with her emotions removed, she looked angry.
Iron dragged himself out of the wall. "I knew you'd survive that. You've got the highest melting point of any of us. But if I'm right, I have the advantage now."
Iron pointed at her eye. The ocular device was fried. She squinted to activate it, but it crumpled and fell to the floor. Platinum appeared puzzled as to her next movement; Iron grinned, formed his left hand into an anvil and struck!
"It's not here, Tin! I don't know what he did with his phone. General Caspar's the first button on his speed dial, but it's not here!" Nameless pounded on the desk in frustration. She was a very meek person, and Tin wasn't used to seeing her temper.
Tin was looking through a drawer but didn't see any phone numbers or address books. He sighed and closed it. "Gold said we should head to the saucer, but what if calling for help is the only thing that can save us. I don't want to fail at this, too! I'm tired of letting the team down!"
Nameless sat in Magnus' chair and thought for a moment. "Correct me if I'm wrong, since you know this place better than me " she said, "but I thought I saw Doctor Magnus use a videophone downstairs to call the General once. And all he did was press one button, which means it would be a preset number! Right?"
Tin kissed her. "You're too smart to be dating a guy like me! I think I know the one you're talking about. It's on the other side of the factory. Come on!"
Iron and Tina's confrontation had become a knockdown, dragout fight that stretched the length of Magnus Industries. It didn't take a detective to follow the patch of busted railings, smashed walls, scratched floors and damaged equipment. The battle had wound up in the testing center, where the Metal Men were regularly put through drills and exercises to test their capabilities.
Platinum landed the last of many punches to Iron's back. He was on his hands and knees, fighting to overcome his pain responses, as she extended her arm to a nearby panel and pressed the large green button. Iron heard a loud electronic hum. He was suddenly pulled from the floor and flung bodily against a metallic wall.
"Okay " he said, trying with all his might to raise a hand, " so you got me with the electromagnet. I'd still like to know how you're planning to get my responsometer without the retrieval device." As he watched, a gargantuan laser cannon pivoted into position, aimed at his chest. "Me and my big -- ARRRRGGGGH!" The cannon shot a wide beam at his entire chest, superheating his body.
Gold was in the hanger bay, firing up the saucer. He leaned against the hull, constantly keeping a lookout for Platinum. "Come on, come on where are they?" A beep from the dashboard of the saucer indicated that the batteries had been charged. He climbed back inside and primed the engine.
Iron's body was beginning to turn red from the heat of the cannon, as Platinum waited patiently for his metal to soften. Iron could barely keep focused as the pain responses began to overwhelm his consciousness. "Platinum Platinum Doc always ensures that ng before we go to battle, we are adequately prepared correct?"
Platinum spoke for the first time. Her voice was toneless, almost masculine. "Correct."
"And and if we aren't equipped with the proper data for a confrontation, we're ordered to return to Doctor Magnus for more information. Right?"
"Platinum! You must stop what you're doing. Your actions show that you are lacking essential data!"
Platinum didn't move. Iron's body was now red hot, his torso molten. Platinum reached into his chest as the laser beam continued and began to poke around.
"You're missing an important piece of information! You must stop!"
Platinum continued groping for his responsometer, but she met his gaze. "You will elaborate."
Iron squinted against the pain. "If you'd been properly informed, you'd know " Iron said, raising his fingers enough to form a fist, " that iron, when super-heated, *ng* LOSES ITS MAGNETISM!!!" Iron swung so hard that Platinum was thrown across the breadth of the room and crashed into a large computer.
She had something in her hand.
In his private lab, Will Magnus was making notes in his notebook when he heard the "whoosh" of the vacuum tube. He opened the newly-arrived container and poured the contents into his hand. It was Iron's responsometer.
Tin pressed the button for the glass elevator. "The videophone is in a workstation in the confinement facility, just east of the metal reprocessing plant. From there, it's thirty seconds to the hangar and we're out of here. Badda-bing, badda-boom."
"We may not get that far!" Nameless pointed to the other elevator at the far end of the hall. Platinum's head appeared to jut from the floor as the carriage arose. The doors opened and she began running down the hall towards them.
Tin and Nameless shrieked with terror and beat on the doors. As the entrance finally slid open, they leapt inside and hit the down button. The elevator began descending when they heard a large thump from above. Clearly, Platinum had leapt down the clear glass shaft to land on the carriage top. The whine of a drill could be heard as the elevator continued its slow fall.
"Tin, she'll be through that in seconds. We'll never make it to the bottom."
Tin looked at the glass doors and turned his fist into a cudgel. "We'll have to jump for it. Are you with me?"
Nameless entwined her hand around his to form a full battering ram. "Now and forever!"
With that, they swung their hands through the elevator and the glass tube around it; the momentum carried their bodies through the holes and into mid-air. Tin quickly formed a large ball around his sweetheart and took the blow when they hit the factory floor. As they rolled to a stop, Tin resumed his normal shape.
Nameless looked back to see Platinum leaping from the hole in the glass elevator shaft, effortlessly landing on a tight spring. Nameless grabbed Tin, who still appeared dazed and dizzy, and hauled him towards the recycling plant. They reached the conveyor belts, where car bodies, old pipes and other scrap metals were being processed by automatons. Tin spotted the hallway leading to the videophone workstation.
"We can't outrun Tina. You go call the General. I'll I'll distract her!"
Nameless didn't budge. "Tin, no! I can't leave you. You're no match for her."
"I didn't say I could beat her, just just distract her. Go. I don't usually get this brave and I'd hate to waste it. Go!!" Nameless ran down the hall.
As Platinum entered the plant, Tin was climbing aboard one of the conveyor belts; she also spotted Nameless running away. Tin began shouting at her, "No, you don't want her, you want me! Up here! Come on, this way." Tin walked in place, taunting her. "Tina, look up here! Nyaah nyaah!" Platinum leapt to the conveyor belt and began cautiously following Tin as they proceeded through the processing plant. They passed through an acid shower, designed to remove paints and decals; they ignored it. When they were about 10 meters apart, she swung an elongated fist at him, which he sidestepped.
The belts turned a corner, leading to a row of rising and falling hammers. Tin sprouted a straw hat and cane and performed a tap dance, narrowly missing each impact point of the immense hammers. Platinum threw another punch; seconds away from his face, the fist stopped. Platinum had been crushed by one of the hammers; her self-repair took over, and she slowly resumed her normal form.
Again, the belts turned a corner. On this row were a string of guillotines, slicing the metal into small cubes. Tin began to walk in place to avoid entering the line of blades. As he turned back, the recovered Platinum caught him squarely in the jaw. Tin collapsed on the belt, a full imprint of Platinum's fist caving in his lower face. As he struggled to right himself, Tina lassoed his feet and dragged him away from the guillotines. Holding him in place, she pulled out a new laser monocle and inserted it into her eye. A thin red light beam scanned his body and traced the responsometer to his forehead. The beam burned a path to the device, and Platinum formed her fingers into forceps to pluck it out.
"YOU LEAVE HIM ALONE!!", Nameless screamed as she rounded the corner and struck Platinum in the back. Platinum tumbled into the guillotines. Nameless grabbed Tin and pulled him to the floor beside the conveyor belt.
"Tin, darling, are you all right?" she cooed, rubbing the fist indentation in his jaw.
Tin tried to straighten his mouth so he could talk. "M'okay. But why didn't you leave me like I told you?"
"I didn't want to see the guy I love destroyed. I'm funny that way."
At the other end of the row of heavy blades, the pieces of Platinum tumbled out and began rolling towards the smelting vat. Tin pressed the emergency stop button. "We don't want to kill Tina; she can be re-programmed if we can just get the Doc to come to his senses."
Nameless eyed the pieces of Platinum. They were still in recognizable shape. "I don't get it. Why don't the pieces revert back to the polyalloy when she's destroyed?"
Tin gestured towards her head, which was in one piece. "As long as the responsometer is intact and connects with part of her body, all the pieces will be active."
The pieces twitched.
"Then then she's still activated?"
One by one, piece by piece, Platinum began pulling herself together.
In the hangar bay, the saucer was prepped, waiting in hover mode. Gold drummed his fingers on the hull, paced, checked the door for the tenth time and ran from the room.
The Technological/Chemical Hazard Confinement Facility was a new wing of Magnus Industries, basically a huge room for housing the deactivated enemies which the Metal Men had defeated. Forcefields and other anti-theft devices prevented industrial spies from stealing the deadly technology of the Missile Men, the Floating Furies, the Gas Gang and other captured alien equipment. B.O.L.T.S. had been dismantled into 20 big pieces to prevent his reactivation. A five-storey-high magnetic bottle contained the deadly contents of Chemo, whose shell had been destroyed three months previous.
As a newer section of Magnus Industries, the workstation on the upper floor was equipped with an interactive videophone. Tin and Nameless ran past the Chemo vat and climbed a circular staircase to the upper catwalk. Upon reaching the alcove, Tin turned to secure the door and spotted Platinum entering the facility.
Turning from the locked door, he saw Nameless pressing the button clearly titled "General Caspar."
"We're trapped. That door's the only way out of here and she's right behind us."
Nameless held his hand as the screen flashed "Now Paging."
The screen resolved to show General Caspar sitting in the compartment of his private jet. The general was clearly surprised to not see Magnus' face.
"Tin! I wasn't expecting to see you and um er your girlfriend um "
Nameless gave him an embarrassed smile. "That's OK. I don't have a name yet."
"So, why are you and whatserface calling? Something happen to Magnus?"
Tin suddenly realized he had no idea what to tell the general. He offered the screen to Nameless. She gestured that he should continue.
Tin sighed. "Uh something something may have, we're not sure! He reprogrammed Platinum so that she doesn't have emotions and now she's she's hunting us down!" A crash at the door announced Platinum's arrival outside the alcove. "THERE SHE IS NOW! Oh, sorry. Um well, the doc's threatening to turn off all our emotions and make us these cold, heartless robots. Is there anything you can do to stop him?"
The general took his hat off and rubbed his balding head. "Look, Tin, this is a strange situation. I know you think you're scared, but you're just programmed to believe that you're scared. That's what Doc is trying to correct. And regardless of what he's doing, well, there's no easy way to say this: You're his property! He can do whatever he wants with you, including reprogramming. I mean, if my neighbor's car asked me to stop him from putting in a new engine, I couldn't do a thing. This is pretty much the same."
"But we're in danger!" Nameless pleaded, "I don't want to lose my Tin! I like him just the way he is. And I don't want to lose my love for him!"
The General shook his head, "I'm sorry, there's really nothing I can do."
Tin was stunned by Nameless' speech. "You you you really love me?"
The battering at the door continued. Tin and Nameless turned from the monitor screen and looked into each others' eyes.
"Tin! Of course I love you. I love you with all my responsometer!"
Tin formed a small door in his torso and removed a velvet box. "I bought this for our anniversary. I was going to save it for a time when our life expectancy was longer than thirty seconds, but I've got to know." He opened the box to reveal a gold ring; on the top were two silver, interlocked gears. "Will you marry me, and be my alloy?"
The pounding on the door suddenly stopped.
Nameless slid the ring onto her ring finger. "I will. I want to spend the rest of my life with you however long that is." She glanced at the wall behind Tin and spotted a grate. "Tin! We can escape! There's an air vent right there!"
Platinum's upper torso burst through the vent. She captured one of the small robots in each hand and focused her laser on Tin's forehead. His metal easily melted away and she quickly withdrew his responsometer.
As Tin's body began to collapse, Nameless continued to grip his hand. "Oh, Tin! Tinnnn!!!" she sobbed as his hand turned to metallic putty. Platinum turned her attention to Nameless' chest and plucked the r-meter from the remaining robot. Her mission done, Platinum recoiled back down the ventilator shaft.
The General had watched the entire thing from the active monitor. "Good Lord!" he exclaimed as Nameless and Tin's bodies degenerated. Their hands meshed together to form one puddle; the engagement ring, floating on top, was all that was left.
General Caspar heard the sound of the jet engines warming up. He stared at the gruesome sight on the monitor. Softly, he said to himself, "If they were big cylinders with glass-domed heads Hmph."
Platinum pulled her upper body from the vent to rejoin her lower half, which was still standing outside the workstation door. As she turned around, a laser light reflected off of her stomach. Gold was standing 10 feet away, and he had a responsometer retrieval ocular detector, too.
"Put down the responsometers. If they're damaged while you fight me, you'll have failed at your mission." Platinum, unable to disagree with his logic, placed them on a counter and leapt at Gold. He seized her shoulders and used her momentum to hurl her over his head. She skidded to a stop by the controls for Chemo's vat.
As she rose to her feet, Platinum activated the lid for the gigantic magnetic bottle. The lid slid away on a robotic swivel arm, and Chemo's green and purple acids, bases and other industrial wastes frothed at the new activity. Tina turned to find Gold burning a hole to her responsometer. She turned to block it.
"Tina! Listen to me. I don't want to destroy you; you're my best friend on the team. But I have to stop you. Somewhere inside you, you must remember our friendship! Think! Don't follow the Doc's hideous orders. Come on!"
Tina considered his words as they both stood in defensive positions. Then she extended her arms lightning-fast and grabbed his ankle. Pivoting, she swung Gold above the foaming vat. He immediately spread his malleable limbs to brace himself above the vat like an unwilling cat above a bath. She used her free hand to chop at his arms. Caught off guard, and being much softer than platinum, Gold fell into the vat.
The powerful corrosives hastily ate away at Gold's body as he tried to swim back to the top of the vat, but swimming was near impossible; his limbs kept corroding in the deadly chemicals. He managed to surface twice more, each time with less mass than before. As he reached the air one last time, he was no more than an amorphous blob; with his last instinct of self-preservation, he extended his responsometer into the air on a shaky strand of gold. A platinum hand elongated to the middle of the vat and caught it. With that, the last portion of Gold's body was consumed by Chemo.
Platinum closed the vat. Her mission was completed.
The Metal Men were deactivated.
Doc Magnus was arranging Mercury, Iron and Lead's responsometers in the tray when Platinum entered his private lab. "ah! Do you have the remaining three?"
Platinum nodded. "I have them in my hand."
"Good job! I hope there wasn't too much damage."
"The losses were acceptable given your financial status, Doctor Magnus."
"Well, we'll see about that. Please place the responsometers in the tray."
Platinum walked to the counter and emptied her hand into the tray. The two steel-colored devices rolled into vacant spots.
"ah. What did you do with Gold's?" Tina, perplexed, turned her hands over and over. "Tina? Where is it?"
Tina stopped, staring intently at the palm of her hand, her eyes widening in realization. "aAAAAArgh!" she screamed, clamping her fingers to her head.
"Tina! What's wrong?!" Magnus cried, gripping her wrists.
As she continued to scream, her voice began changing from an ear-splitting soprano to a baritone. Her hair pulled up into her head and her hat disappeared as a small blotch of gold appeared on her right forehead. The gold spot spread across her face, transforming her features to those of Gold. Gold grunted, concentrating as he forced his responsometer to take over her body. Finally, the only platinum spot left was his left big toe. With a "Ptui!", the toe spit out Platinum's responsometer.
Gold roared with fury as he grabbed Magnus by the collar. "Magnussss! You betrayed us! How could you turn Tina against us like that?"
Magnus was terrified. "Me? I didn't betray you! You're my robots; it's you who betrayed me! I was just correcting a flaw in your programming."
"Flaw? That 'flaw' is what allowed me to override Platinum's control of her body. She was just a machine, going through the motions. I had a will, a desire to live! Emotion is our strength, not a weakness!"
"I quite agree!" General Caspar said, entering the room. "I'm glad to see you're alive, Gold. I hurried over as fast as I could. Magnus, if you want to keep your government contracts, you'll restore the Metal Men to their previous design. I had a glimpse of your improvements to Platinum and they're unacceptable."
Magnus was caught off guard. "Unacceptable? But I--"
"This may come as a shock to you, but I don't think the best soldiers are soulless killers. I don't want a fighter who can turn upon and destroy her best friends without a thought. I know you say the Metal Men are programmed to never harm humans, but some enemy might remove their Robotic Law restrictions someday. I want to know that even if they could kill, they wouldn't."
The Metal Men waited as Dr. Will Magnus finished his work on Platinum; restoring her was more time-consuming than the simple reactivation of their bodies.
Tin ran into the room carrying the ring; he slid it back onto Nameless' finger as she blushed. Mercury was complaining loudly of their treatment to Iron and Lead. Gold listened to Mercury from across the room and mulled over a new plan.
"ahem!" The Metal Men turned to see Platinum saunter back into the rec room. "Did you miss me?" The Metal Men rushed to hug Platinum except for Mercury, who formed a finger into a little flag that read "Whoopie" and waved it in tiny circles.
Gold stared into Platinum's sparkling eyes. "How do you feel?"
Tina mulled it over. "Well, I think it worked. I'm not in love with Dr. Magnus anymore."
The team turned to regard Dr. Magnus, who stood in the doorway to his dark lab. Lead finally voiced their opinion. "I don't think any of us are."
Gold slowly approached Magnus. "Doc, I've been thinking this over. According to General Caspar, we're a finished project. Therefore, as long as we honor our defense contract to assist in times of crisis, we're done testing. And in that case " Gold glanced at his teammates, " I don't see any reason why we need to stay here. We're moving out."
Magnus' jaw dropped. Then, he pointed to the door. "Fine. FINE! Get out, all of you. You bunch of ingrates! Get out! I hope I never hear from you again!"
The Metal Men left, heading for the front lobby.
In his silent laboratory, Dr. Will Magnus sat down on a stool and massaged his temples. "at least," he sighed, "the Metal Men will never give me another headache ever again."
As the Metal Men walked down the sidewalk in the fresh air, Nameless took another look at her new engagement ring. "Tin, this really does look wonderful. Did it cost much?"
Tin shrugged. "The jeweler told me to figure three months' salary. Do you have any idea how much Dr. Magnus makes in a month?"
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This piece is © 1997 by Michael Hutchison.
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