But there’s no alternative. For centuries, Meteor, Gloss, and Spike were nothing more than three of thousands of robots programmed to serve the whims of a hyper-advanced intergalactic species. If they want to avoid being recaptured by their old owners, they need to find a weapon hidden millennia ago in Earth’s soil. Meteor’s ambitions, however, don’t stop at merely escaping capture. He’s got big plans for the species that built him to be a slave. Big, violent plans. And it’ll all work out perfectly provided he can keep reminding the other two of what they’re on Earth to do.
What they’re not there to do is have fun. But flighty, excitable Spike quickly forgets that.
What they’re not there to do is learn about kissing. But cold, analytical Gloss finds his attention drawn that way regardless.
What they’re not there to do is become human. But Meteor has spent several hundred years bored out of his mind and humans…well, damp as they are, they’re not boring. Which is a problem, because Meteor can’t afford distractions—not with their owners searching the galaxy for them and getting closer every day.
T.J. Land © 2018
All Rights Reserved
The Faceless Man
The ship crashed into a mountainside and broke into several thousand flaming pieces.
In retrospect, it would turn out to be the most surmountable challenge the three of them would face that day. They emerged from the wreckage perfectly intact, having been encased in a force field, and quickly set about disposing of the evidence. The ship’s scattered remains were vaporized, which took only an hour. The damage done to the mountain—most noticeably a crater in which the largest chunk of their vessel was lodged—posed a more serious problem. Luckily, the impact had compromised the structural integrity of the rocky outcropping just above the smoldering cavity, and as they were pondering the dilemma, there was a rumble, a roar, and a massive rockslide covered it up.
“Excellent,” said Meteor, his tone implying that this had been his plan all along.
Well, no. Not “his” tone, not really. No human language offered pronouns equivalent to those which they’d used to refer to themselves in their previous lives. They’d decided, when they were teaching themselves the language preferred by those who inhabited this region, to use the pronouns considered appropriate for human men, for the simple reason that that was what they were pretending to be. Of all the skills they’d acquired during the last few months while learning how to pass for humans, this had vexed Meteor the most. Weeks had been spent pacing up and down the ship mumbling “he, his, him” and trying to make the words stick in—hah! Success!—in his head.
Dusting themselves off, they climbed to the mountain’s peak and gazed down at the city in the distance.
“Success, comrades,” Meteor said, spreading his arms as though to absorb the electricity he could sense flowing through every towering structure. After so long hurtling through the black, empty void, it was immensely refreshing.
But for two small facts, any passerby glancing Meteor’s way would have written him off as unremarkable in every respect. He had two arms and two legs, and was of average height, average weight, and average musculature. His dark brown hair was short and its style almost aggressively boring. All that distinguished him from millions of entirely average men was his nudity and his face. To wit: he didn’t have one. While the rest of his body had been covered in synthetic skin, his chin, cheeks, and forehead were all bare, gleaming metal.
Gloss placed a hand on his shoulder, probably less a gesture of congratulations and more a precaution in case their leader, in his enthusiasm, leaned too far forward and toppled off the cliff edge. He did have a face, a brown and narrow one to which the aforementioned passerby would have assigned an age range of eighteen to twenty-one. He was tall and skinny, and his hair fell limply to his shoulders. Because of a glitch in the program they’d used to design their disguises, it was a garish shade of pink. “All seems to be as we expected. Singular yellow sun, singular large oblate spheroid satellite, atmosphere a combination of nitrogen and oxygen, gravity roughly seventy percent of that which we were accustomed to aboard the ship.”
“Why can’t I see anything? It’s all blurry,” complained Spike, who was short with muscles packed into every inch of his small body, beige skin, and a wild crop of black hair that stood straight up in spikes as though in the grip of a potent gel. This, in fact, was the reason behind the name he’d chosen for himself. Unlike the other two, who’d simply named themselves after things they liked—fiery emissaries from the void that destroyed everything in their path and the shine you achieved after a lengthy polishing—he’d felt that his name should in some way match his appearance. An odd notion, but then, there were many things about Spike that Meteor found rather odd.
“This is your first experience of natural light. Did you calibrate your optical receptors before landing, like I told you?” Gloss asked patiently.
“Oh. Right. Okay, now I can see. Wow, the sky’s really blue. Never seen blue like that before. What’re those things?”
“Those are birds. Winged organic lifeforms. Vertebrate. Endothermic. Some species form part of the human diet.”
Spike raised his arm, following their flight path with his fingertip. “That looks like so much fun. Why couldn’t we have disguised ourselves as those?”
“To business!” Meteor snapped. His henchmen occasionally needed encouragement to keep their minds on the task at hand.
“Quite so, leader,” said Gloss, turning to face the city. “The target location is home to six million inhabitants spread across approximately seven hundred square kilometers. Temperate climate, though prone to violent storms in Winter. Prosperous, as human settlements go. That’s all the data we have at our disposal.”
“Initial impression?” Meteor asked.
Gloss made a series of low-pitched clicks. In their language, the sound conveyed ambivalence bordering on mild disdain. “It’s messy. Why are all the structures of varying heights? I dislike that intensely.”
“I think it’s spiffy,” said Spike, who’d grasped the vagaries of human slang more adeptly than the other two. “Ooh—look at that!”
He pointed to the highway that ran into the town’s heart, and the silver and black vehicle shooting down it.
“A motorcycle,” said Gloss.
“I want one.”
“Why? They’re primitive and inefficient. The only advantage they offer is to humans who can’t travel long distances because of their limited physical capacities.”
“Weak bodies. Low energy. Typical organics,” grunted Meteor. If he’d had an upper lip, it would have drawn into a sneer.
They made their way down the mountain. It was slow going. They’d spent ages unlearning the rigid gait that came naturally to them in favor of a more organic walking style, keeping their stances relaxed and their arms loose (“Imagine you’re a bag of greasy liquid,” Meteor had told the other two). By necessity, all their hours of practice had taken place on the ship’s perfectly smooth floor. Emulating human walking on rocky, uneven terrain was a frustrating business.
“We’re going to need to do something about your visage, Meteor,” Gloss observed when they had at last reached level ground, the green fields surrounding the town stretching out in front of them.
“Any ideas?” said Meteor. He was distracted by the unpleasant realization that, as bad as walking on uneven rock had been, the soil beneath his feet was immeasurably worse. It was soft. It squelched, as though the entire planet was one giant organic life-form and he was stepping on its moist flesh. Ugh.
“I might be able to make more synthetic skin if I can get my hands on the necessary materials and equipment. Perhaps instead of all three of us going into the city together, Spike and I should go alone and come back for you when I’ve…”
“No. We’ll remain together at all times, at least until we’ve established a base of operations.”
“Understood, leader. In that case, when we procure clothing, we’ll try to find some sort of cover to place over your head so the humans don’t notice the problem.”
Spike, whose attention had been fixed on a flying insect, gave him a curious look. “Clothing? What’s that?”