Mox sat across the table cursing the situation under his breath. He should’ve stayed on the ship and not bothered to set foot on this moon. It was a precarious proposition.
The multisystem conglomerate Profitus Maximus Transstellar Broadcasting System, LLC had purchased the only moon of Grandor 6 for an unimaginable amount of money and bribes. Half the moon was a series of interconnected hotels, casinos, and colossal arenas. The dark side was one gigantic broadcasting dish. It was the epicenter of galactic competitive sports.
Smarmy, vapid, and gauche to no end, a plastic fantastic playground destination for interstellar couch potatoes from worlds in that sweet spot of development where their populations had nothing better to do than watch meaningless happenings and bet on their outcomes. One might call them Romes ready to fall.
The moon’s only planetary law: Honor Thy Bets.
Galactic mob bosses loved the place and enforced the one rule with a more than vicious death penalty.
Zandar Vandar Blunt had requested the stop because of its reputation for advanced deep space transceiver equipment. The Brick was badly in need of an upgrade as its current transponder had tipped the thousand-year-old mark. It was going to cost almost everything they had. Not just credits, but valuable artifacts, the entire supply of Varan ice lobsters, all the diamond ore, and half the best weapons. Which is why Mox decided to talk with Harvey.
Harvey P. Splector, Robot Death Fighting™ promoter and 57% owner of the current champion had been begging, groveling, and making offers for the last half hour. He wanted Mox’s Sentinel droid to get in the ring.
“Look, I don’t want the entire universe to know about my robot. Everyone will want to take a crack at it.”
“Harvey reassured they could hide its identity. It would only be a one-time fight.
“What makes you think it’s so tough anyway?”
Standing behind Mox looking like a decaying chunk of metal was the Sentinel, a one of a kind robot of an ancient design. In thousands of years of space travel, Mox had never seen its like.
It was constructed of an impenetrable ever rusting alloy. A red electric orb of an eye sparked at the center of its square head, which sat on meter wide shoulders. Blocky arms with chunky clamp like fingers hung off its square torso. Rectangular legs met the floor like stumps.
“Ok, I’ll pick up your new transmitter cost, on the house.” Harvey’s golden teeth glimmered in the dim light of the casino bar.
“That’s not the only issue, what if I win?” Mox had no desire to get sucked into rematches.
“If you win, you’ll make a fortune! You’ll have the most famous robot in the quadrant!” Harvey leaned in, his twitchy third eye giving him away. “You won’t win though, no one beats The Obliterator.”
“But if I do and your droid gets wrecked, you won’t hold it against me? Nor any of your fellow investors?” Another major concern.
“Of course not, we know the risks.” Harvey leaned back. “One top of the line galactic transceiver cube and ten million Grandor credits. And a written guarantee of no reprisal from every investor. They’ll hold us to that here and you know it.”
He could tell by the look on the lizard’s face he was closing the deal.
“And I want a transport to take my ship and whatever’s left of my robot out of the system the second the fight is over,” said Mox.
“One more thing.”
“What does the P stand for?” Possibly his closest guarded secret.
Harvey stretched out his chubby three-fingered appendage and shook Mox’s green scaled clawed hand.
He pulled him in close and whispered, “Pekar.”
The transceiver cube was delivered free of charge to the delight of Zandar Vandar Blunt. He also received a digital chip and retina scan to access the ten million Grandor credits, the most valuable currency in three sectors. He took it all to the most outrageous and flamboyant casino on the moon; Jersey Jakz’s Disco Palace, and walked straight up to the betting counter.
“What’s the biggest bet you’ll take on Robot Fighting?” Said the squat Gila Monster in leather pants.
A tall slender blue-skinned female Zorr behind the counter assured him, there was no limit.
“Good, then I want to place ten million,” Blunt told her the specifics of the bet he was making with a longshot payout of 700 to 1.
“Most excellent choice, sir.” She smiled wide-eyed with true intrigue.
“What time do you get off work?” Blunt grinned back with his broad black scaly snout.
“I never get off work, sir. But for a VIP like yourself, I could arrange to watch the event from a private box,” she suggested.
“That won’t be necessary, I’ll just watch from here in the casino.” Blunt waved a friendly goodbye and walked over to a plush seating area filled with patrons from across the sector.
The place was crawling with Jakz, an amphibian species with a rather short lifespan. They were born, had a brief childhood, partied too much, bred like crazy, and died young. Their whole society was based around youth culture.
The Disco Palace drew more than 50 million Jakz visitors a year. It was hot and muggy inside for most species, but the Jakz liked it that way. Being a Varan reptile species himself, Blunt felt quite comfortable in the swampy high oxygen environment.
A young Jakz approached him, he was about a meter and a half tall with big bulgy eyes, basically a tree frog in platform shoes and bell bottoms.
“Heard about your bet, cousin. Far out. Here… it’s a 100 hit bottle so go easy.”
The Jakz flipped a small crystal vial at Blunt and he caught it. He looked through the clear glass at the fluorescent yellow liquid. There were tiny creatures swimming inside; it was the real thing.
“Thanks. How’d you know what I bet?” Blunt was mildly concerned.
“Oh, you know, I bribed the Zorr to tell me the biggest play of the night. And you’re it, man. I followed your lead. Looking at you, something tells me it’s going to be a hell of a ride.” The Jakz walked away to join his friends. “It’s you and me, Daddy-O!”
The Sentinel droid was ushered to a backstage prepping room. They painted it black with multiple coats of tar paint, covered it with sparkles, and attached a head extension that made its eye look like its mouth. It was fighting as the Galaxy God.
Mox joined Harvey in a VIP box on the forty-seventh floor. It was a small gathering of about twenty odd individuals, all heavily invested in the outcome of the fight. He had a brief talk with Harvey to confirm the transport hanger number and the robot removal crew that would deliver the Galaxy God’s remains in the event of its inevitable loss. Harvey tipped everyone extra as Mox was a little edgy about the whole deal. He liked to keep people happy.
Mox noticed an extremely small fellow standing on the rail of the balcony. He grabbed a drink and walked out to talk to him.
“An Ursa Minor here, what’re you up to?” Mox smiled at the tiny 11-centimeter being.
“Ah, a Varan, I could say the same to you. Maximilian.” He held out his palm flat facing towards Mox’s chest.
“Hello Max, I’m Mox.” He extended his hand in the same traditional Varan greeting, then touched the gnome’s small chest with one finger.
“Your reputation precedes you, as does my craftsmanship I presume. It would appear we are opponents tonight, but you can trust my knowledge of you will not be shared with my colleagues here. As a member of the Ursa Minor Interstellar Robotics Corporation, your client privilege is held in the highest regard. However, would you mind walking me back to the betting table? If the Galaxy God is who I think it is, I’d like to change my bet.”
Mox laughed a contagious chuckle that spread to Maximilian and three other spectators out on the balcony. A Varan laugh was something everyone joined in on. He scooped up Maximilian and walked him to the betting counter. Since Mox had long been an ambassador for the Ursa Minor Corporation he tipped Maximilian off to the realities of the situation. He decided to let his current bet ride as cover and triple down on another option.
The two returned to the balcony to watch the fight. Mox got an earful of battle robot design from Maximilian. He was the preeminent battle droid architect and a true master craftsman. Mox set him on his shoulder and soaked up his chatter like a sponge.
Down in the colossal arena filled to capacity with a million screaming fans, a three-story door opened and the Obliterator walked out onto the expansive cement parking lot that was the fighting ring. He was huge, easily 10 meters tall, humanoid in structure with ridiculously big steel boots and spiked shoulders. His head had a kind of samurai looking helmet built into it and his eyes glowed green. He was constructed out of a brilliant white spaceship metal with turbo cannons in his chest, flame throwing death grip fingers, laser eyes, and a mouth full of diamond teeth in hydraulic press jaws.
The Obliterator was a white knight of epic proportions, a classic good guy. He waved his giant golden scimitar around and shot fire into the air. The crowd ate it up.
Mox shifted the conversation to neural transmitter robot control and Maximilian was thrilled with the topic. He could casually rattle off a dissertation on the subject.
The opposite arena door opened and out walked the much smaller, chunkier, sparkly Galaxy God. His red orb flashed with electric lightning that also flared out of the fake eye slits of his head extension. He reached to his back and produced two chunky battle axes that jumped to life with the same red lightning.
The crowd booed with all its might.
“They don’t seem to like him.” The gnome paused his treatise on neural control momentarily. “So like I was saying…”
The Obliterator fired flames at the Galaxy God, only to remove its sparkles and make it look more intimidating. The Galaxy God dodged his turbo cannons. Then the Obliterator lifted his huge boot and brought it down eclipsing the droid. The Galaxy God was lost under the great foot, presumably crushed flat into the ground.
The crowd cheered!
A moment later, a red light appeared around the Obliterator’s ankle. The Sentinel was inside his foot, spinning and cutting a perfect circle. When the Obliterator lifted his leg, his foot came off. And out from his boot, jumped the Galaxy God with a smashed and dangling head.
The Obliterator hopped on one leg and swung its gold sword down only to have the quick smaller droid swing both its axes and break the golden sword in half.
The entire place went apeshit. The network announcer was on the edge of his seat screaming about some kind of reverse David and Goliath story. It was pandemonium!
The Obliterator still stood three times the size of the Galaxy God and he fired his laser eyes and chest cannon again. This time the blasts hit dead on. There was a series of explosions and a fireball of death.
The announcer bellowed, “Nothing could withstand such a beating!”
When the smoke cleared, the blackened and rusty looking Sentinel stood in the arena. The joyous announcer described the sad state of the now trashed looking robot, whose head was gone and only had an electric mouth left.
The Sentinel fired its rocket booster feet, lifted from the ground, dodged the swing of a half golden sword, and hacked off the arm of the Obliterator.
The entire stadium was on its feet!
The Obliterator tackled the droid body slamming it to the pavement and its chest cannon fired point blank. There was an explosion of such a scale it sent a mushroom cloud billowing up into the air above the crowd.
The screens in the VIP box changed to an aerial view of the fiery cloud bursting out the top of Robot Death Fighting Stadium.
The smoke started to clear and the Sentinel crawled out from below the Obliterator. The white knight pushed himself up on his only arm and fired his green laser eyes at the Galaxy God. The radioactive green glowing Sentinel raised both its axes and brought them down, splitting the helmet and the head of the Obliterator in two.
There wasn’t a person on the moon not watching the fight. The champ was down! The Galaxy God, looking like it had been dredged from the bottom of the ocean after rusting for a hundred years, lifted its axes into the air above its fallen opponent. The crowd was hysterical!
The battle axes fizzled one at a time. Then its red lightning eye went out. The Galaxy God stood there lifeless with arms raised. Silence filled the arena. You could hear a pin drop. Smoke swirled in the air. Then the Galaxy God slowly fell over and slammed to the ground with a dull thud.
The announcer was beside himself. “A double deathmatch! UNBELIEVABLE!!!”
Harvey ran out to the balcony and slapped Mox on the back. “Worth every penny, our ratings just went through the roof!”
With both robots destroyed there would be a whole new season of battling robots to claw their way up to the Champion of the Universe. Harvey lost a shit ton on the fight and so did his fellow investors, but it reset the game and that was an opportunity for Harvey to make yet another fortune.
Zandar Blunt slid out of his chair and casually walked back to the cashier window to collected $7 billion credits.
Mox parted with Maximilian, who was immediately commissioned by Harvey and company to build a new fighter. He went down to the field where the removal crew had loaded the dead Galaxy God into an unmarked vehicle. Mox got in the front seat and told a rather cute synthetic driver where to go.
Mox and the female synthetic rode in silence down the back streets of Casino Way. In the industrial warehouse district on the outskirts of the spaceport, they came to a pointless stop when there was no cross traffic. She pulled a gun and aimed it at Mox’s head.
She was fast, even for Mox, who was unarmed as weapons were technically illegal on the moon. But luckily for him, she was also talkative.
“This is from Boss Magnus, he lost forty million on that fight and he’ll be taking your ship in return.”
In the mind of the manufactured humanoid assassin, she decided to pull the trigger. But before the electrical impulse could command her finger to act, she disappeared into the back of the van. The Sentinel had punched through the back wall of the cab and grabbed her by the neck. Then it pulled her entire body back through the hole. Her blaster pistol spun on the floor.
Mox slid over into the driver’s seat.
“Excellent work tonight.”
The Sentinel’s primary function was being Mox’s bodyguard. It followed its programming with extreme prejudice. The only response was a muffled groan from the synthetic and then silence.
Fifteen minutes later Mox pulled into Hangar 18 and there was Harvey’s transport ship just like he promised. Its huge bay door was open and inside was the Brick. Mox backed up to his ship. Its door opened and in a rusty flash, the Sentinel was inside. Mox drove the truck back out and walked aboard. The transport zipped up and pulled away from the moon.
When Mox and the Sentinel got up to the control room, Zandar Vandar Blunt was there talking to a lanky Zorr in a casino uniform.
Blunt turned his attention to Mox. “Any trouble after the match?”
“A little. Who’s your friend?”
“This is Crystal Blue Persuasion. The Jakz bought her out of her contract because she tipped them off to my bet. She’s real grateful and asked if she could hitch a ride off the moon. I figure the least we can do is drop her off at one of the Zorr homeworlds or somewhere a little more friendly toward her species.” Blunt had a big heart beneath his poison gland.
“Or I could tool around with you two for a while until I get back on my feet,” suggested Crystal.
Mox sized her up, she was persuasive alright. Blunt was a solid judge of character so his initial instinct of thinking she was a plant when he walked in drifted away.
“We’ll have to get you some better clothes.” Mox stepped forward and offered a hand.
Crystal placed her palm on Mox’s chest. “I bring you no harm and I speak the truth.”
Now, he was a little suspicious again. “Where did you two meet?”
“She was the counter girl I placed the bet with. Needless to say, she wouldn’t be having a good time back there after we cleaned the place out. The Jakz who bet alongside me made a fortune and offered me anything I wanted. The pit boss was screaming at her behind the counter, so I suggested they could help her out. Apparently, the guy was the 332nd cousin twice removed of a part owner of the Disco Palace, so they worked it out. You know Jakz, they’d rather have a good time than make money.”
Blunt pulled the little yellow vial out of his pocket.
“Oh, and he gave me this. My thanks to you for getting the new transceiver.”
Blunt smiled and flipped the fluorescent tube spinning through the air. Mox caught it with a mischievous grin.
Mox laughed. Blunt laughed a bigger black and pink scaly belly laugh. Persuasion found herself tickled by the sound and erupted into uncontrollable laughter. Her face started to hurt from giggling.
Mox got serious. “Is the new transceiver in place?”
Blunt slid into the pilot seat. A rusty co-pilot droid sprang to life, started manipulating control panels, and activated the scanning array.
Styx, the rusty co-pilot spoke. “Klagstrom. Transmitter online. No negative signals. Clear to exit sector. Norg.”
Mox slumped down into the second row of chairs behind the pilots. He gestured to Crystal.
She hopped into the seat next to him. “Ok, now what?”
“Have the transport Captain open the hangar doors. We’re getting out early, but tell him to keep his course and speed. He can continue to his destination.”
The moon was now a small speck in the distance orbiting Grandar 6. The transport opened its cargo door and out slid a three-story rusty rectangle. It was dark and seemed hardly noticeable in space. The Brick drifted back as the transport pulled away.
Styx chimed in again. “Blorg. Transport lost visual. Negative sensor activity. All. Clear.”
Persuasion looked at him. “What does that mean?”
“It means they can’t see us visually anymore, nor can their sensors pick us up. It’s as if we disappeared. We probably look like an asteroid or something if we show up at all.”
Blunt opened the blast shield over the one window on the Brick. The transport engines flared away ahead of them and the view filled with stars
Mox turned around. “Pull her out.”
The Sentinel yanked the scraped up assassin out of its chest cavity, holding her off the ground by an arm. She glared at them and said nothing.
Styx spun his head around. “Blaorg. Explosives.”
The Sentinel jammed a claw into the assassins back and pulled out a device. Mox shot out his tongue and the droid tossed the bomb to him. He looked at it for a moment, rotated it in his hand, and pulled out the detonator pin. The assassin lost consciousness.
“Holy shit, how’re you both calm right now!?” Crystal had pulled her legs up onto her seat and wrapped her arms around them.
“Don’t worry, they scan everything. I do appreciate your Varan pact of truth. It shows you do your homework. These droids would know if you lied and Zandar would’ve known before them. But I suspect you already understand us.”
She nodded. Zorrs were intelligent and perceptive beings. She was alright.
Mox continued, “Get me, Boss Magnus.”
Blunt patched through to the moon. A nasty looking goon appeared on the viewscreen.
“The Boss says nice knowing you lizard.” There was a beep, then a moment or two of silence, then the goon came back on again. “So I guess you found the bomb.”
Mox held it up and spun the detonator around his green clawed finger.
The goon look pissed. “What do you want?”
Mox leaned forward. “Tell your boss, we are keeping his assassin, also tell him I’m not informing the authorities. But I am going to tell Harvey Splector that he’s a poor sport.”
The goon was crushed. “No, wait…”
Blunt cut off the signal.
“Wow.” Persuasion had to admit these two walking Komodo Dragons were seriously unusual.
Mox held out the little glass vial. “I say we drop some of this Jakz Juice, set the ship toward Zorr space, go down to the lab, and see if we can reprogram this assassin.”
Blunt locked in the coordinates, passed navigation to Styx, and got up. “Well, Crystal, would you like to listen to some music?”
Her delightful smile lit up the room. “Do you have any Disco?”