New Skin?

“Everybody gets one,” Helio said with a smile, “And this one is particularly unique.”

Zuki’s head lolled to the side as she looked up at the red and white fabric Helio held out before him. “How’re you gonna get it on him?”

“I’ve programmed the nanites to consume and reproduce based on the anomaly’s particular rate of decay, otherwise the fabric would simply dissolve,” Helio went on.

“Yeah, but how’re you gonna get it on him?”

“And look,” Helio said, poking his fingers through two holes in the fabric, “I’ve provided eye-holes, although I’m not entirely sure why it even has eyes. Perhaps to anthropomorphize it a little so that we can relate better, then why would the reactor even consider that as a necessity. But I mean seriously, dude, have you seen when he gets all bloodthirsty… and those eyes…” Helio shivered a little as his voice trailed off.

Zuki stared for a few seconds, waiting for Helio to come back around. She watched as his arms dropped and he gazed off into space, contemplating the nature of the anomaly. When she recognized the here and now back in his eyes, she had to ask, again, “So how’re you gonna get it on him?”

“Oh, yeah, that. I’ve already got Celeste and Lockwood out looking for him. We just need to stop by and get PuP from the junkyard.”

“We can try. He and Rampart have been stuck in a fetch loop for the last few days. Why do you think I’m crashing on your couch?”

“I thought you wanted to absorb some more of my genius. I keep telling you that you need to give up on all of this tinkering with junk and start studying nano-tech. You’ve got the right mind for it, and it makes far less of a mess,” Helio gestured to the pile of sticky-bombs Zuki had been spraying with phosphorous residue.

Zuki rolled her eyes, shrugged, then held up another of the tiny bombs and sprayed it.

*****

“I told you I’d help find it, but I’m not getting anywhere near that thing.” Lockwood said, peering around the corner as he watched the anomaly at the end of the street. It had been flying around in circles for the last hour or so. “I’d get dizzy if I kept doing that.”

“Mon ami, we have become quite adept at catching him. It is perfectly safe,” Celeste said smiling.

“Nuh uh. I ain’t risking a dent in my pocket book for another resurrection if that thing goes nuts. I’ll just watch from back here.”

“Did you call Helio and Zuki? Why are they taking so long?”

“Apparently Zuki had to disassemble PuP’s megabite apparatus. Something about how it was locked onto Rampart’s bulwark housing or some such. I dunno. Anyway, they’re on their way.”

“Actually, we’re here,” Helio said as he approached from the opposite end of the alleyway followed by Zuki, PuP and Rampart. “Where’s it at?”

Lockwood, leaning against the wall, puffed his cigar and jabbed his thumb over his shoulder.

Helio peered around the corner and watched Quark for a couple minutes before returning to the alley. “It’s been doing that since you called?”

“Yup.”

“I wonder why?”

“It’s crazy, that’s why.”

“Too simple an explanation. There must be a reason. Perhaps it has to do with the means by which it maintains its energy. Or it could be a fluctuation in the anomaly’s core that causes it to spin out of sync and…”

“Does it really matter, right now?” Zuki interrupted, “Let’s do this.”

“Right. Celeste, where’d you place the trap?” Helio said.

“At the first lamp pole. The one closest to us.”

“How long will the trap hold it?”

“Only but a second.”

“We can’t get there that fast. Lockwood, I’ll need you to dash in and hold…”

“No way. Not gonna happen. Last time that thing tethered onto me it burned a hole right through me. Not a comfortable experience.”

“I got an idea,” Zuki said, climbing onto Rampart and pulling a screwdriver from her belt. She looked down at PuP, “You know what to do, right PuP? It’s time for walkies, buddy!”

PuP let out a happy little “Arf” as his form shimmered away.

Moments later PuP reappeared directly opposite Celeste’s trap. From the robotic dog’s cranial housing, a clamp emerged, snapped twice, then shot out and latched onto the anomaly. In the alley, the others could hear Quark giggling as PuP’s clamp locked on and began to recoil. Once Quark reached the trap’s location the distinctive beeping of the trap triggering resonated down the street, and Lockwood looked around the corner of the alley to see anomaly rooted in place.

“Trap’s got it.” Lockwood reported.

“Look out,” Zuki said, jumping down from Rampart as a buzzing sound began building in the large robot.

Rampart’s head perked up at the surge of energy, “Manners enabled. Excuuuuzzz meee.”

The robot tore out of the alley and rocketed down the street to the opposite side of Quark where its massive shield suddenly deployed, denying the anomaly its escape route. The others, save Lockwood, were directly on the robot’s heels.

When Quark saw the group running in his direction, he let out another laugh and shouted, “Yay! A game! Now watch me fly!” But as the anomaly turned to flee, he instead collided with Rampart’s shield-wall, stopped cold, and the group was upon him.

“Get that arm!” Helio shouted, “Good, now the other one.” The three wrestled with Quark for several minutes as Lockwood watched from the edge of the alley, shaking his head.

“Haha, that tickles!” Quark shouted as the friends stretched and pulled the nano-material over the little anomaly’s body. Once the last bit of the new Helio Corps uniform stretched into place around the anomaly’s head, it simply lay there staring up at them for a few seconds. The top of the torso and headpieces sunk inward, merging with its body. Seconds later Quark’s array of nuclear shards floated up above his head. It blinked a few times then lifted off the ground as the Helio Corps group stepped away.

Quark looked himself over and padded at its new suit with its tiny hands. “New skin?” He pondered.

“That’s right,” Helio said.

“I can’t melt it?”

“Nope. I made it special. Just for you.”

“Just for me? Whee! Just for meeee!” The anomaly spun around in a circle then rushed down the street.

Lockwood walked up to rejoin the rest of the group. Rampart’s shield had collapsed back down, but a large burn mark remained in its center. The other three had several singe marks on their new Helio Corps uniforms as well, and Celeste stood scowling as she pulled at the frayed ends of her long bangs.

“Was it worth it?” Lockwood said.

“Absolutely,” Helio replied. “Just think, nothing draws more attention than a freelancer in this city, especially that one. When they’re all sporting new Helio Corps outfits this trust is really going to take off!”

“Whether they like it or not,” Lockwood said, turning to walk away and leaving a huge puff in his wake.

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