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À Bout de Souffle
Out of Breath
New Egypt
Day breaks on the moon, illuminating the outlines of scores of chalky pyramids against the inky black sky of space. A luminous green floating pyramid zooms above and momentarily traces the movement of a figure below before flying off to another location. The figure is REN, a human-shaped robot with a ceramic jackal face, who carts a sarcophagus with a heap of valuables past the rows of the pyramids before stopping at Pyramid 72C. Ren, in a methodical, programmed manner, places the sarcophagus into one of the bricks in the outer wall of the pyramid, when suddenly a hook comes from the side and shatters Ren’s face, leaving only the eyes and some damaged circuitry behind. The hook is NEATBEARD’s left hand. Neatbeard is a human who wears a patch, scraggly clothes, and other pirate clichés, especially a long, unkempt beard. Neatbeard quickly modifies the hovercart’s control panel, and speeds away with all of the valuables and the incapacitated Ren. It’s not long before a hovering green pyramid catches sight of the speeding cart and tracks Neatbeard from above. A dozen jackal robots like Ren start chasing the cart, but Neatbeard swats them away with his hook and whips at them with his beard while laughing maniacally. Cannon fire strikes the green pyramid and temporarily freezes it while Neatbeard boards the ship that fired the shot. Several more green pyramids tail the ship and shoot lasers at it from the crosses at their peaks, as the pirate ship flees the moon’s orbit successfully and enters invisibility mode.

Neatbeard and his shipmates repair Ren’s circuitry, who upon waking attempts to attack them in vain, because he’s chained down. Neatbeard activates a voicebox chip that allows Ren to speak for the first time ever. Neatbeard explains to Ren that robots like himself are merely mass-produced for certain tasks by the capitalist humans who live in the satellites around the dead Earth. The ageless THOTH, the leader of the church and state, uses the guise of religion to subdue the masses and prescribes that the people bury themselves along with all of their valuables, which the moon-based government simply takes and sells back to others. Ren refuses to accept that he was created for one purpose and decides to leave the ship to try to find the answers to his identity.

Neatbeard’s ship disguises itself as a pretzel delivery vessel and docks at the satellite city Alexandria. Neatbeard and his men push their hot pretzel carts out of the ship and around the dock area where they sell the stolen goods to the local traders. Meanwhile, Ren walks off on his own among the crowds of people and robots with various ceramic faces. Ren gets odd glares from everyone. A mustachioed barbershop quartet, in song, mocks him and his lack of a face as he passes by the barber shop. They sing to him, “Where’s your mask, what’s your vocation? / We can’t even tell which way you’re facin’.” Ren starts to fight with the barbershop quartet, but is easily defeated since each member is trained in a separate martial art.

Having caused a ruckus, Ren flees the scene and stumbles upon a ceramic face shop. He enters as the owner eyes him suspiciously. When asked what model he is, Ren does not know what to say. The owner questions Ren about how he got to the city, but when Ren tries to take a face, the owner presses a silent alarm, and a pair of femininely-built police robots, named MA’ATs, complete with sleek dark faces and a single large, fluffy, light-blue feather sticking up from each of their heads, enter and name Ren a rogue robot. Ren, confused, flees and the Ma’ats give chase. Ren runs through crowds with the Ma’ats not far behind him, until finally he reaches the dock area. Suddenly, a Ma’at falls to the ground and her face shatters and sparks, having been tripped by Neatbeard’s beard. The other Ma’ats are only confused for a moment, during which Neatbeard, laughing crazily at his hijinks, grabs Ren and heads to the pretzel ship. The other pirates use the pretzel mustard bottles to return laser fire at the Ma’ats, who hold off but call in some hawk-shaped air/space fighter craft, the wings of which flap as they chase Neatbeard’s ship. Neatbeard’s ship suddenly vanishes, and the hawks back off. A faint but large glimmer reveals that it is not his ship’s own invisibility, but a larger rogue colony’s cloak, in which they dock.

Neatbeard tucks his beard under his vest and bows his head respectfully to his comrades on the space station Potyomkin. Ren greets the comrades and the return his greetings in a friendlier manner than the people at the satellite. Neatbeard introduces Ren to COMRADE VAKULINCHUK, a leader of the resistance against Thoth. Vakulinchuk, sipping on vodka and stroking his luxuriant mustachio as he speaks, explains to Ren the way that the filthy capitalists claimed all properties and rights to properties in the solar system and then slowly destroyed Earth, forcing everyone to buy new property from the conglomerate. This conglomerate formed the new government, and each member sustains his longevity with anti-aging methods available to only those with immeasurable incomes. Thoth is the pharaoh of the hierarchy of capitalist power.

Disgusted by the story, Ren vows to help overthrow the government for the glory of the proletariat. Vakulinchuk smiles and dances a very manly dance, and then offers Ren full repairs and a new face. Ren is fitted with a ceramic lion face. They decide to finally strike at Thoth’s headquarters. Neatbeard extracts from Ren’s memory a conveniently accurate map of expected pirate attack routes on the moon. Neatbeard sketches a route that the security on the moon will never expect.

The posse acts accordingly and sweeps down to the moon, firing precision cannon shots to paralyze the green surveillance pyramids before they are detected. Ren and Neatbeard, on foot, sneak in to a restricted factory and discover hundreds of men working with large machines to mass produce an uncountable amount of robots, many of them Ren models. Ren goes wild and begins destroying the machines. The men flee in terror and try to escape, and Ma’ats and Rens pour into the factory. Neatbeard smirks and unsheathes his facial hair, and begins dismantling his opponents as Thoth arrives at an observation deck and calmly watches the action unfold. He sees Ren with the ceramic lion face and mutters “Sekhmet?” then leaves.

Ren continues destroying the factory machines, harming his own body in the process, and cracking his lion face. He then begins slaughtering the men who hadn’t found their way out in the confusion. Neatbeard notices and his expression deadens instantly. He tries to restrain Ren, but to no avail. Ren is dead-set on destroying everything and killing everyone as he punctures a main pressure valve. The factory enters emergency mode and is flooded with red, confused light. Neatbeard makes his way out in the pandemonium and finds his way back to the ship with no sight of Ren. He reluctantly climbs aboard and takes off as the entire factory complex flashes bright white and explodes.

Later, Neatbeard’s shipmates approach him and tell him about the piles of fortunes that they stole while he was off fighting. Neatbeard has just trimmed his beard, and his shipmates are shocked. Elsewhere, Vakulinchuk pays four shadowy, mustachioed figures and commends them for a job well done.

That was an epic, silly-serious story. :P
» randomjunk on 2008-03-26 06:39:38

I WILL read this later.
If I remember. :D
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» Rudolf ( on 2010-09-01 02:05:09



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