We’re getting closer to the release of the Kickstarted mode-alternating robots RPG Commandroids: A World Transformed. To get our t-cogs lubricated, the nerdy citizens of Nerdy City have given us an exclusive taste of the game’s opening fiction!
If you missed out on the Kickstarter, preorders are now open for digital and physical copies.
While you wait, snuggle up in your pandemic bunker and enter the world of the Commandroids with this piece by RM Sean B Jaffe. Then join us in waging our battle to destroy the evil forces of the Nemesite Capacitors in our forums, Discord server or Facebook group!
I Know You
When I shut down my optics, I’m back there. We fought for so long at the Nefrex Comm Salient, trenches dug in the magnetic sand twenty Atorcs deep, lined with whatever metals we could slag to support the trench walls. Sometimes you could still see a face or a hand frozen in those pig-iron slabs. And that godawful magnetic sand got into your rotators and made every joint grind so bad that transforming was like rust-abrading your insides. You’d shut down your optics for a Ticosecond, and you hope that your squad was still online when you blinked back on. They were.
Nefrex Comm Salient was hell. Not the sort of quasi-mystical hell the organics postulate about in their bizarre faiths, it was the actual worst place you could possibly be. Everything hurt, everything was dead, no hope and no way out. You tuned it out, you reloaded your plasma ejector, and you kept firing. You fought for your family, or your MechaShogun, or that pretty-faced ‘Bot back in the city that once looked at you twice. You fought for whatever kept you going. But in the end, it wasn’t enough. We couldn’t save Nefrex. We couldn’t save Quazaros.
We ran from a dead world. Alpha Columbia said we were leaving to warn the universe. I’m not sure we weren’t just running. She was always the best of us.
I dreamed for so long, halfway across a galaxy. I dreamed of nebulas and stars and moons, of planets and quasars and constellations. I dreamed of a blue marble in space, overrun with organics and all of their own wet, strange life. I dreamt of coming back time and time again, seeing their fish and mammals and people. I dreamed of their transmissions.
I dreamed of the decades of information, of their own world wars, learned the language. I heard them all- Marconi, Tesla, and Edison, the great war that was over in a moment, only to be followed up by Stalin and Churchill and Hitler. I heard Luis Armstrong’s trumpet and Buddy Rich’s drums and Ella Fitzgerald’s voice. I watched Murrow and Cronkite deliver the news. I saw Elvis change the world, I watched Kennedy die in Dallas right alongside you. I watched Wally and the Beaver, saw the Beatles come on Ed Sullivan, witnessed the Summer of Love and saw the failures of Vietnam and Watergate. I watched the rise of HBO and MTV as video killed the radio star.
I know you.
I come online at a high-end dealership in Miami, surrounded shiny glass and gold sales trophies. Over me hangs a massive banner emblazoned with a gold bull, touting the advantages of the new ’87 Countach. What’s a Countach?
DATABANKS:- READOUT: 1987 LAMBORGHINI COUNTACH: HIGH-END SPORTS CAR and terrestrial ALTMODE. TOP SPEED 110 TRILOCS PER REICO-CYCLE. 1-60 in 45 TIcosends.
I admire my smooth clean geometry in the mirrored walls of the dealership. Not bad. I could work with this. Two male humans approach, a mustachioed manager in a suit, and a mechanic in a stained blue jumpsuit. It matches my electric blue paintjob. I wince as they poke and prod my engine with their tiny, soft hands.
“Yeah, I don’t know.” Says the mechanic.
“Well, is it working now?” Snaps the manager. He seems annoyed.
“Look, you weren’t here last night. The whole chassis was falling apart. The entire right fender fell clean off the vehicle. I’m not even sure why I’m telling you this. The kid was completely freaking out. This car costs more than his family’s house, and it just fell apart, like an unglued model kit.”
“Well, it looks fine now.”
“Nothing, man! Look at him, guy’s a wreck. He was sure you’d fire us or worse, but like I said, we didn’t even touch the damn thing.”
“Well, he’s your assistant so you figure it out. You vouched for him.”
“Kid’s got it rough and he knows cars. What do you want?”
Manager peers at my engine.
“What did you do?”
“It came off the truck and started fallin’ apart. Maybe something in Italy?”
“This is a hundred thousand dollar car. It didn’t just fall apart.”
“I know what I saw. Kid’s not okay, man. He’s still chain-smoking and shivering out by the tires. Said he saw a hand.”
“Yeah, tucked up behind the bumper.”
“Like a severed hand? You think this was some drug dealer or…?”
“No, he saids it was like… a car hand. Big. Like a catcher’s mitt.”
“Okay, so… he ain’t makin’ any sense.”
“No he is not. I think he needs to take the day, boss. Something rattled him. He says he found a tape in the deck. I told him to take it easy until we talked to you.”
The manager shrugs and gets a coffee.
The manager has the gall to kick my tires. My tires. If I could transform, I’d slap his tiny human face. Why can’t I transform?
DATABANKS:- READOUT: PROTOVOLTAIC POWER MINIMAL. ENERGY REQUIRED.
Ok… I think. Where do I get energy on this little world?
DATABANKS:- READOUT: PROTOVOLTAIC POWER MINIMAL. ENERGY REQUIRED. SECURE AN ORGANIC PILOT FOR ORGANIC PROTOVOLTAIC CONVERSION.
Wait, what? I need to partner up with one of these rubbery little things?
PLAY: TRANSMISSION FROM SYMBITRON COMMANDER ALPHA COLUMBIA:
“My Symbitron Allies:
Remember: even though we can bond with the sentient life on this world, our war is not theirs- not yet. These humans must learn to trust us as allies, and they are not yet an interstellar race. We must endeavor to keep them safe first and foremost. The bond between Symbitron and Human must remain exclusively at the human’s behest. If we take them as slaves we become everything we stand against.
It is foolish to assume that in the time span between our departure of Quopoth and our arrival, we have not been followed. For this and a thousand reasons, we must remain secret. We must remain hidden. We can shroud ourselves in the machines of these humans, robots in disguise, protecting the humans as we prepare them for the gathering storm.
We are guests on this world, but we may be its’ only line of defense.
I will find you all soon.
Shine your light into the darkness.”
When we started training with Ultra Nebularos, he had a saying: Robots don’t cry. But seeing her face again fills me with hope, and were I organic I’m sure my eyes would water.
“What the fu…-!”
The mechanic has been peering in the window at the hologram of our beloved leader. He reaches into his jumpsuit, pulls out an airline bottle of schnapps, and polishes it off. He walks up to the manager.
“Yup. Car’s haunted.”
“Do what now?”
“The Lambo. Ghost in it. Call Bill Murray. There’s a ghost lady dressed as a robot in there.”
“Jesus, Frank. I’m tryinna’ run a business here. Go get a coffee.”
Outside, the kid sits on a stack of tires and stares down the street at the way the palm trees wave in the breeze. Salt air hangs on brine. He wipes his hands on his jeans and straightens his “Blizzard of Ozz” tee. He knows what he saw.
“Hey, dirtbag.” A man in a silvery business suit with a power tie and powder in his mustache approaches me. He has a female with him, wrapped in a tube top and pleather skirt, wavering on high heels. These people have never known war and it shows. She checks her teeth for lipstick in my rearview, and a tiny gold spoon dangles over her chest that has an unlikely relationship with gravity. The kid looks up.
“ I’m here to make a big purchase. Is the entrance round the side?” The kid nods.
Power tie sneers. “ You work here? Some advice: Get a haircut.”
The kid flips the guy off as he walks past with his tottering, pneumatic lady companion. Kid flicks some ash from his Marlboro, and peers though-gas-station sunglasses at a billboard for the Luger Williams christian finance seminar at the Days Inn outside of town. Despite the heat he’s still got the shakes, the sort of thousand-yard-stare shakes that come with questioning your place in the cosmos after getting irrefutable proof of alien life… and it’s a hundred grand worth of Italian engineering.
He looks down at the tape in his hands, turning it over. It’s painfully normal, an unmarked grey plastic cassette like the countless others that scatter across the carpet of his room back home, sharpied over with names like ANTHRAX, MEGADETH, RUN DMC. This one is clean. He pops the tape into his walkman.
I know you.
The kid looks up and it’s like I’m sitting with him, the same blast of cosmic awareness that comes with the first hit or the last pill. The world goes into tilt focus and his vision zeroes out. All becomes wireframe gridlines receding to the palm tree horizon. It’s the sketch in the margins of every notebook he’s ever had.
I know you.
He looks up and there I am, and he somehow knows me, too.
“Lux Maximo?” He sighs.
“Hi, kid.” I imagine sitting next to him, trying to calm him.
“What did I…?” He furrows his brow accusatorially at his cigarette, at his half-gnawed bagel.
“You’re not… on anything” I assure the kid. “My databanks created a recording of my Bonding Frequency. That must be what you’re listening to. It creates a psychic bond between us. You must know I need to talk to you.”
“What are you?” He asks.
“I am what you saw. I’m a Commandroid.”
“You’re the thing in the car.”
“I’m the thing in the car. Hell, I am the car. I’m one of a race of living robots from the planet Quazaros, and we’ve come to your world because ours… died.”
“Why are you hiding?”
“Fair point.” He stands up. “I have a lot of questions. If you’re an alien, how do you speak English? How’d you get into an Italian sports car? Are there more of you? Are you all psychic?”
I lean in. “That’s not what you want to ask.”
“ It’s not.”
“ You want to know what the catch is.”
I look down. “War.”
He resettles his position on the stack of tires, as if he was expecting something worse. The kid doesn’t know. I have to show him.
I don’t hold back, barraging his mind with everything- the Compliance Laboratories, the rise of the Nemesite Inquisition, their horrific “tribunals,” and, of course… the Nefrex Comm Salient.
“ This war has been going on literally as long as your species has existed, and it destroyed our world completely. If you agree to help me, you’ll be making enemies of the Nemesite Capacitors- evil, parasitic religious zealots from Quazaros. If we’re here, they must be here too. Their cruel Inquisition would snuff out all organic life on this planet and replace it with their psychotic “Mainframe,” a power-mad AI that wants to take over and reformat the whole universe.”
There it is. His worst fears realized. There is life out there, and it’s too strong, too cruel, too big. It wants him and his entire world dead. And there’s nothing he can do to stop it. The kid looks up at me with eyes wide. There is a barrage of unnecessary confessions.
“When I woke up this morning my worst fear was getting fired, or maybe Alex rejecting me for prom. Look, my mom died last year. My dad and I are still…This is … too big.”
“ What if I say no?”
“ Then you’ll remember this as all a strange dream and I’ll ask someone else. Your planet still has life. You’re still a part of it. I understand that. It’s unfair for me to ask you to help me. I know. But they’re coming either way, and I have to ask.”
His voice is deathly quiet.
“… What if I don’t?”
The man in the power tie reclines in my driver seat, taps a bump of power on the end of his hand, and snorts it. It’s a big purchase he’s about to make, and he needs a shot of confidence, I suppose. He rubs his gums and checks himself in the rearview. It’s disgusting.
“Al, we’re gonna be late.” His woman raps on the window.
“Sure, sure.” He opens the door and beckons the manager. “I’m gonna do sticker price, OK, pal? No higher. ”
The door to the dealership slams open. The kid stands there, eyes glowing electric blue.
“Get the hell away from my car.”
The man in the power tie looks over. “Excuse you?”
Manager moves to diffuse the situation and the kid shoves him aside.
“You.” He points. “ Get out of my car.”
“Your car, haircut? You got a hundred grand for th…- HNNG!”
The nano machines are already enhancing the kid’s musculature, and his eyes glow brighter as he hoists the hefty adult male out of the seat, one handed. The others back off. He grins and takes the wheel as I slide the door down behind him.
“Kid.” I greet him.
“Lux.” He smiles.
He knows me.
We floor it through the plate glass and out onto the street, following a Symbitron signal pulse into the Everglades. I move towards the highway so we can really pick up some speed. He cheers and swings his fist in the air. We are fast and free and young, and there’s a whole new world for us to explore.