A Package Better Left Unopened
by Grievious Maximus
“Smash, bang, zap!” rang out as his artificially enhanced robotic fists punched through the glowing energy shield. His foe’s green eyes bulged and appeared ready to explode as mechanical fingers slowly squeezed his neck and lifted him off his feet. Weezing, the wriggling figure exclaimed weakly, “You will never take me alive Mech-Man!” Mech-Man lifted his arch enemy, Dr. Energy, above his head with ease, and exclaimed loudly, “Your reign of terror over the good citizens of this planet is over!” Just then, Dr. Energy reached into his lab coat and retrieved a small black box and with the press of a button, Mech-Man was blinded and pummeled by a bright energy burst and left clutching thin air - Dr. Energy had vanished. Almost as if he had a portable personal jump bridge, he was gone in an instant, transported out of Mech-Man’s grasp. Mech-Man’s cybernetic eye scanned multiple light frequencies for clues but found none. Suddenly, Mech-Man’s eye projected a holographic region map with a Cynosural Field alert in a distant system.
A loud buzzer sound followed by the words, “Scrapper’s Hole” came from the grav-tube’s speaker system, knocking Richard from his fantasy world. Putting away the comic into his backpack he stood and braced himself for the expected jerky station stop. Reality stank, literally, the grav-tube smelled of urine and sweat. Everyone on the dilapidated grav-tube were of the lower freedman working class or slaves like himself, filthy from a hard day’s work in the various planet’s industries. The slaves were easy to see, they had their owner’s mark, a tattoo, on their necks, mandated by law to be visible at all times. Of course, under that tattoo was an implant to track and if necessary cause pain or even death, if required. Freedmen either removed or obfuscated their prior owner’s marks and of course were free of a slave’s tracker/compliance implant. There were hidden scars too, both mental and physical, some of which couldn’t be forgotten or ameliorated. Richard involuntarily rubbed his own neck’s mark and felt the flexible implant just beneath the skin. One day, he thought, he too would buy his freedom and leave this godforsaken planet and its unpleasant memories behind him. He nonchalantly felt the front of his trousers, hoping not to attract attention, to ensure that today’s haul was still there. Yep, the small package was still there, pressed against his groin. This was his ticket off this planet or at least an incremental part of it.
Exiting the grav-tube, his senses were overcome by the sights, sounds, and smells of the station as he was swallowed up by the throng of workers pressing forward. Each was eager to get to their respective shanties and grab a few hours of respite from their wretched lives before repeating the process the next day. Scrapper’s Hole was one of the older sections of the planet when salvage reprocessing was the primary industry. Now the planet was the system’s primary Planetary Production (PP) planet, covered in a beehive of activity comprising PP production factories, inter-factory transport, and their associated spaceports. As a barren planet, close to the system’s sun, the above ground temperatures are too high to sustain life, not to mention the poisonous atmosphere. While industry could be sustained above ground, the rest of the rapidly growing population of workers built their lives underground. This was facilitated by the planet’s earliest days which saw significant volcanic activity, with lava carving cavernous spaces deep underground connected by lava tubes, many still unexplored. Scrapper’s Hole grew up in and around one of the first discovered city-sized caverns with a large, some say bottomless pit in the center. This pit was conveniently used as the town’s garbage, sewage, and occasional body dump. Built around and right up to the edge of the pit was a sprawling, unplanned, haphazard menagerie of shacks, stacked up to the cavern’s high ceilings, creating meandering and treacherous alleys and warrens. Most shacks were repurposed PP shipping containers, stacked one on top of the other. The Hole, as the locals called it, was largely ungoverned or more accurately ungovernable. Organized crime divided the settlement into zones, each rife with their chosen crime empire; drugs, gambling, and prostitution. The latter was a major draw to the freighter pilots and outlanders visiting the planet, but of no consequence to Richard or Dick as his friends called him.
“Hey watch it you Nub!” yelled a large and barrel-chested man towering over Dick, as he passed by and accidentally brushed the stranger. Nub was a derogatory slang term that referred to slaves and former slaves, like Dick, whose owner had seen fit to “Nub” or emasculate their male slaves. Nubs, with their smaller, less masculine stature and lack of passionate desires, were the only slaves trusted to work inside the Master’s house, around his wives, offspring, and wealth. That had been Dick’s destiny, although only in his late 20s, he was well educated for a slave and had earned his place in the Master’s household. That is until another slave’s theft was pinned on him and he was sold to a salvage factory, sorting space junk for processing into drones and rigs. He was used to a life of privilege as a Master’s “house” slave; he was not prepared for the cold, harsh reality of being an outside slave on the bottom rung of society. Dick’s prior education, particularly his knowledge of math, science, and languages, allowed him to quickly rise above the uneducated working masses. He had recently been promoted to shift lead in his factory’s salvage receiving and sorting shop. Additionally, some old friends had stuck by his side, at their own peril, and provided Dick with the necessities to survive, including a small coffin-sized shipping container room, high atop a ramshackle tenement, deep inside the warrens of the Hole.
As he hurried on his way home, he made a slight detour, down a narrow, dank alley, toward one of the Hole’s many main thoroughfares, lined with storefronts of various kinds. Exiting the alley, he deftly dodged foot and brightly colored, decorated small motorized two and three-wheeled vehicles, Dhows, which were the primary means of transport in the Hole. He approached a shop front for a local scrapyard, “Otto’s Out of this World Salvage,” and was greeted by a familiar voice, “Hey Dick, what ya got for me today?” With hands on his hips, the rather rotund, squat, and bald proprietor motioned for Dick to come inside. Otto appreciated Dick’s eye for rare and unique salvage items, and never asked too many questions - a good trait for folks in his line of business. Dick retrieved his small package and unwrapped it on the counter. Otto donned his optic-magnifier and carefully looked it over, commenting aloud, “ahh,” several times as he did. “Appears you have here an undamaged Drone Artificial Intelligence (AI) chip,” Otto exclaimed. The Drones were dangerous, mysterious, sentient robotic creatures, who formed hive-like colonies and were known to modify any technologies they came across for their own needs. As always, Dick had taken a risk sneaking this out of his factory’s salvage sorting room. Each risk brought him closer to his long-term goal to buy back his freedom and move on to a new life away from this planet. Otto threw out a number, which seemed low, Dick countered, and the two eventually settled on a price that suited both. Otto asked, “the usual, 80% in the tribal bank, rest in portable credits?” “Yes,” Dick replied. He calculated in his mind that he would need another three years at this rate and he would have enough saved to buy his freedom, assuming he wasn’t caught. He put the latter out of his mind as he exited the shop and headed for his room, thinking about stopping for a bowl of noodles on the way. Otto, called out, as he always did, “Keep a look out for that blue stuff!” The blue stuff was a special Isogen, as mysterious as it was rare. Some say it didn’t actually exist, others that it would kill you if mishandled. If he found some and brought it to Otto, his days as a slave were over. Over the past year, he had brought several blue items to Otto, but to date, no luck.
“Hey Dickless!,” came the taunt, and Dick’s heart sank. He turned to see Tito, a familiar small time street punk and his crew, looking for easy marks and Dick was an easy mark. He knew he couldn’t fight back or outrun them, so he stood there awaiting his fate, a fate he had experienced many times before. “How’s my old friend Dickless doing tonight?” “Me and the boys are hungry for some pork noodles.” With that, they escorted him into a side alley. Tito held his wrists over his head, pinned against the wall, while his boys rifled through his pockets and backpack. “Hey, Mech-Man, my favorite, mind if I borrow this?” One of his goons asked. “Sure”, Dick replied, “enjoy.” Dick could feel and smell Tito’s foul breath in his face as a hand grabbed his credits from his jacket. “Hey, Dickless, we’re off to grab a bite, we will catch you later.” With that they let Dick go and headed away down the alley. I guess tonight I go hungry, Dick thought to himself, at least I am in one piece. Retreating to the small “coffin” container he called home, he crawled in for the night, stomach rumbling, shut the door and dreamed of freedom from this place.
Luckily he had a few credits hidden in his sleeping hole, so he was able to grab a sweet bread roll from a street vendor on the way to the station. That day began like any other, getting caught in the wave of people pushing toward the grav-tube, finding a handhold, then mindlessly riding until arriving at his station. As he oversaw the workers receiving and sorting the latest salvage lot, his mind was elsewhere, sitting on the veranda of a small lakeside cottage on a temperate planet with a pet dog by his side. Having a family was out of the question, but he had always wanted a dog since he read about them as a young child; dogs or pets of any kind were strictly forbidden on the planet. Suddenly, something caught his attention out of the corner of his eye at sorting station #7. He relieved the sorter, a new fellow, and told him to take five. It took a few moments to visually reacquire the object, perhaps he had been mistaken, wait, there, in a tangled heap of drone parts he saw it again, it was a faint blue glow. He quickly secured the item, no bigger than a small dinner plate, and retreated to his broom closet-sized office to inspect the item closer.
Closing the door behind him and turning off the light the blue light was more obvious, in fact, there were three of them. Turning the lights back on, he immediately recognized the item as Drone technology but where had it originated before they took possession and what was its purpose? He soon had his answer and it sent shivers down his spine. There on the metal was a very worn but still visible etching of the Sansha Nation emblem. Sansha were crazed cyborg enhanced humanoids, the thing of nightmares. Sansha items were rare and normally avoided, reducing their value. The item was actually triangular in shape but with the points squared off. The blue light was visible from the end of these three points. It was heavy for its size, maybe it had batteries he thought. It appeared to be about 2 inches deep in the middle and tapered to 1 inch at the squared points, which was capped in a thick dark glass. In the center was a circular, flat-topped object that protruded about 2 inches from the surface with some sort of a metal shutter mechanism that he assumed could open or close. Perhaps this was a simple camera system and the blue lights were standard light emitting diodes. Its larger than normal size would make it difficult to smuggle out in his standard fashion, backpacks were checked, so that was out of the question. Should he risk his career and freedom for what could be a camera? He looked in vain for a way to pry open the unit to get a better look at the internal mechanism and perhaps the origin of the blue light. He needed to think about this, so he put the device away and went back to the shop floor.
The day wore on and he forgot about the strange device until the factory horn sounded to close up shop. He rushed back to his office, and without much thought, he shoved it into his underwear, one point down. Its heaviness caused his trousers to slowly slip down, so he had to keep hiking them up. He made it through the disinterested guard at the factory exit and proceeded to the grav-tube station. He felt self-conscience with such a large device in his trousers, particularly since it caused a bulge in an embarrassing location. The grav-tube passengers took no notice, each seemingly preoccupied with their own thoughts or watching/listening to personal entertainment devices. Standing and hanging on by one hand, his constant crotch grabbing with his free hand, to keep his trousers up and package situated, did catch the attention of a dapper gentleman sitting directly in front of his protruding mystery package. He gave Dick a wry smile and a wink.
The initial smooth and coldness of the device’s metal were now replaced by a distinct heat and prickliness, causing him severe pain. Thankfully, the grav-tube reached Scrapper’s Hole and Dick rushed to get off. Not caring what others thought, he held his crotch as he walked fast, nearly running, pushing commuters out of his way with his free hand as he rushed to get to a safe place to dump this thing - the Hole he thought. The searing heat and pain in his groin were getting worse and all he could think of was radiation! While the factory screened out salvage that was radioactive or “hot,” somehow this device got through and was now irradiating him, irreparably burning his skin and internal organs. His entire body was now sweating, he felt nauseous with intermittent dull and sharp pains in his stomach and lower back. Exiting the station and entering the alleyways, he suddenly felt a sharp, jabbing pain in his stomach that brought him to a halt and doubled him over in pain. After a moment the pain subsided somewhat but when he tried to straighten up, he couldn’t. He wasn’t going to make it to the Hole, so he tried to dislodge the device to dump in the street but it was stuck! He felt doomed, he needed to see a doctor ASAP! Awkwardly, walking as fast as he could bent over like a crippled hunchback, he made his way toward an alley that led, if he remembered correctly, to a small family clinic.
He burst into the small, dingy clinic and exclaimed aloud in a pained voice, “I need to see a doctor…radiation burns…” At the sound of the word radiation, the waiting room cleared out and the young lady behind the counter looked too scared and stunned to speak. The doctor, an older gentleman, entered the lobby and immediately directed Dick into a back room. “We are not equipped to deal with radiation here, but until we can figure this out, I need you to sit in the x-ray technicians booth, it’s lead lined. Dick, still bent over, entered the booth and the doctor closed the door. Through a small window, he could see the doctor looking at instruments on the wall. “The doctor opened the x-ray booth’s door, “well if you have a radiation burn, there appears to be no residual radioactivity. Now that radiation is not a concern, show me what the issue is.” Dick, who was now able to slowly and painfully straighten up, took off his pants and underwear. The doctor exclaimed, “what the hell…is this some sort of kinky sex act gone horribly wrong?” Dick tried to share the story, but the doctor appeared to be only half-listening. “Here, lie down and let me get a look at this thing.” Lying back on the x-ray table, the doctor poked and prodded the device. “It appears to be attached firmly to your skin. If it is an adhesive, I can use solvents, else, I may have to remove it with surgery, which may require removing and regrafting a large patch of skin.” That sounded painful. “Doc, if it is simply stuck to my skin, why the pain in my stomach and back?” “I’m not sure, I need to run additional tests, but before we proceed, how do you intend to pay?” “I will pay whatever it takes, but I will need to swing by my tribal bank and transfer the credits.“ “Great, see the front desk on way out for the clinic’s account information.” “Dick, one final thing, this is urgent, you need to have this removed today, I am afraid it is obstructing your ability to urinate, we may have to insert a catheter through your stomach.” Come to think of it, he was feeling an urge to pee. “I will be right back, my banker is a few alleys over.” Dick grabbed the banking info from the front desk and began hurriedly though painfully walking to Otto’s.
Otto greeted his old friend but noticed the strange gait, sweating, and expression of desperation. “Dick old buddy, what’s up, you seem troubled.” Dick relayed the whole story, but unlike the Doctor, Otto took in every word. While he was talking, Otto had appeared with several hand-held devices, scanners of some type, radiation, light spectrum, etc. and held each to the front of his trousers, taking readings. Otto looked pleased with himself, and said, “Dick Old boy, I think you have come to the right place, old Doc Otto can remove that device and save you the trouble and cost of surgery. Follow me into my workshop.” By now, Dick was feeling a strong urge to urinate so the sooner he got this thing off the better. Otto locked the shop’s front door, turned on the closed sign, and closed the curtains They entered the back room shop, Dick had never been in there and it was cluttered with space junk in various stages of repair and assorted tools. Otto shut and locked the thick metal door behind them, then approached a wall cabinet filled with bins of various sized salvaged parts. Removing one large bin, he reached back and seemed to activate a switch. The cabinet swung in, revealing a secret room that was decorated like a luxury apartment, the contrast between the shop and room was shocking. In the back was a small living area, the front had a work desk and data terminal, and there was a large, well-equipped workbench with what appeared to be expensive equipment. On the opposite wall was a cabinet with various weapons, most banned and highly illegal. “My secret safe room, only a few of my closest friends know this is here and Dick I consider you like family.” “This room is clean and has a good ventilation system, unlike my dirty, dusty shop, and it has my most sensitive equipment so it’s the best place for the delicate work we are about to perform.” “You have a large collection of weapons.” Dick said. “I know what you’re thinking, but all of these were found in various salvage lots and I had them professionally disabled, so just for show, fully above board, I have all the paperwork. Now, undress and let’s get a look at what we are dealing with.” Dick stripped down, completely nude except for the alien contraption covering his groin. “Sheeze Dick, that is a doozy of a device, beautifully made, I hate we may have to destroy it to remove it, but your safety comes first. Here, sit in this chair, wear my housecoat, and just relax, I will have that off you in a jiffy,“ stated Otto confidently. “Here is a little something to help you relax.” Otto then jabbed Dick in the shoulder with a syringe. “Ouch,” Dick reflexively yelled and began to protest the surprise poke, but his voice was slurred and he quickly fell into a stupor. Dick was fully conscious, but couldn’t move and felt as if he were not attached to his body.
From somewhere Otto had attained a person-sized stainless steel pan on wheels, placing it beside Dick. He then maneuvered Dick into the pan, on his back and then used a built-in electric motor to raise it to chest level. “Did I tell you that this room is completely soundproof,” Otto told his incapacitated patient. “Do you realize what you have there?” Otto continued, briefly moving out of sight, but soon returning with a small tray of tools. “That blue stuff you have been searching for, well you found it and then some. Isogen-5, in its raw form, the few ounces you have there could power or blow up this city, depending on how it’s configured. What’s special about this device is that the Isogen-5’s power appears to have been harnessed, I am not sure for what purpose, but I will find out shortly. Regardless, this device you have found is gonna make me the richest man on this planet, system, and region. Unfortunately, I need you awake during the procedure, in case this thing has attached itself to your nervous system, which I suspect is the case. Dick’s field of view was limited, but he heard a saw turn on and watched as Otto maneuvered it toward his groin. Now out of view, he only heard and felt the small handheld circular saw as it came in contact with the device. Suddenly, Otto’s face was in front of him with a surprised expression and blood coming from his mouth and nose. Otto collapsed heavily onto Dick and went still and silent. What the hell is going on he wanted to scream.
How long Dick remained pinned under Otto he wasn’t sure, but eventually, he regained his muscle control and slowly crawled out from under his now cold, dead body. He was covered in Otto’s blood and still groggy. How did Otto die? Perhaps he had inadvertently triggered the Isogen-5? He had a gaping hole in his chest, but no burn marks to indicate an explosion? The sooner he got this thing off the better, it was dangerous. He put Otto’s shower to good use, even trying to urinate in the warm shower but without success, his bladder was about to explode. He needed to get his credits transferred to the clinic and get this sorted out immediately. Remembering Otto’s desk and his terminal he thought maybe he could access it. Sitting down at the terminal he stared at the login screen…it required a fingerprint and password…he checked around the table, drawers, etc. but no sign of a password. Returning to Otto’s body, he reluctantly used the handsaw to retrieve his index finger, almost vomiting in the process. Holding the detached finger against the scanner, the screen came to life awaiting a password. Dick sat there helpless, unsure of what to do next. Almost naturally, he felt his groin stirring and witnessed for the first time a smooth but fully articulated appendage emerge from the device! In total shock, unable to react, he watched as it hovered over the terminal, then a small tendril emerged and slowly drilled into and entered Otto’s computer case. After a few seconds, the terminal came to life and the strange appendage returned to where it had come. What had he just witnessed? Was he still under the effects of Otto’s drugs? He did a quick check and the drone device was unchanged. Returning back to the terminal, he became busy looking for his account information. What he found was astonishing! Otto was stinking rich! He also saw that Tito and his crew worked for Otto! His own account showed each transaction with Otto, what Otto paid him for his items and what he sold them for. In each case, he paid Dick less than 5% of the sale value! He was being ripped off! Dick used this to justify transferring the difference from Otto’s account into his own. Once he did that he felt Otto owed him for trying to kill him! So he transferred some more, after several additional rationalizations, including the fact that Otto was dead, Dick had transferred all Otto’s funds to his own account. He now had more than enough to buy his freedom and a place off planet to start a new life. What a pisser, he was now rich but he still needed to fix this bladder issue in the next few hours or he would surely die.
Leaving the way he had come, he re-sealed the secret room. It was late, but he needed to find a doctor to drain his bladder. He would swing by the family clinic first, the doctor lived upstairs, perhaps he could wake him. If not, an all-night clinic was on the main strip, 10 minutes away in the same direction. He had made it more than halfway when a familiar voice stopped him in his tracks, “Hey Dickless, you’re out late, are you lost?” With a new boldness, Dick responded, “Not tonight Tito, I am in a hurry,” and he turned to continue on his way. “Whoa Dickless, that’s not the way things work around here,” as Tito and his two goons stopped and pushed Dick against the wall. “Look, Tito, I’m sorry but I’m sick and I need to see a doctor, please let me go.” “Here, let me give you a free exam” and with that, Tito wound up and began to punch Dick in the stomach. Everything seemed to go in slow motion; he watched as Tito’s arm moved toward his midsection, but before he could make contact, the mysterious appendage sprung out of his trousers and smashed into his solar plexus with a loud thump. Tito fell back and dropped to his knees in obvious surprise and pain. His two goons began to approach from the sides, each with a shank drawn, intent on avenging their leader. Again, the appendage lashed out, first entering the left one’s right eye, stopping him in his tracks as he screamed and grabbed his bloody socket. Before the second could react, the appendage swiped right and caught his lower jaw, nearly separating it from the rest of his face. Tito now lunged forward, knife in each hand. The mechanical appendage reacted, smashing through his teeth and clamping on his tongue. Tito froze and slowly sank to his knees again whimpering in pain and fear, hands on the metal arm in his mouth, eyes a fixed on Dick. “My name is not Dickless, Dickwad, it is Dick.” His two goons stood back in shock watching, nursing their wounds, too afraid to speak or move. “No one is my Master now, do you understand? I am my own Master, Dick Master.” Hey, Dick thought, it had a ring to it. Slaves usually chose their Master’s last name, but Dick would choose his own. “Say my name!” Through broken teeth and clamped tongue, Tito blurted out, “Dick Master!” “Louder!” “DICK MASTER!” With that, a warm peace came over Dick and he heard Tito choking as if drowning. He looked down to see that he was unloading his bladder through this metal appendage and urine was spewing out of Tito’s mouth and nose as he struggled to breathe. Bladder empty, Dick released Tito’s mangled tongue and he stumbled away into the darkness with his two cohorts. Turning to leave Dick noticed a small crowd had gathered to watch the fight. Dick retreated in the opposite direction not wanting unnecessary attention. It had been a long day, he needed some sleep.
At the commercial spaceport Richard Master sat as a wealthy freedman, tatooless, with fresh new clothes, haircut, and dark sunglasases, enjoying the latest issue of Mech-Man. Sitting in the first class lobby, a video screen played the latest news. There were numerous sightings being reported of a strange half-man, half-human monster roaming the Hole, attacking innocent people with a weaponized, cybernetic…penis. Dick smiled. The news showed a grainy picture of a shadowy figure, with what appeared to be three arms. The news anchor said that this super villain called himself the Dick Master and he wondered aloud who could stop him. A small boy sitting in the seat next to his mother pointed at the video screen and said aloud, “Mom, I want a robot weenie.” Everyone in the lobby laughed and the mother looked embarrassed. The kid turned to Dick and pointed, “do you have a robot weenie?” His mother grabbed the young lad and apologized profusely, Dick said, “no worries.” Later, boarding the space plane, Dick passed the young boy, gave him a wink and rapped his own groin with a knuckle making a distinct, metallic sound. The boy’s eyes grew big and he was about to speak but Dick placed an index finger to his mouth to quiet him and let him know that this was their little secret. Dick asked his mom if he could give her son his Mech-Man comic to entertain him on the flight and she gratefully accepted.
Dick sat in his first class seat, enjoying a glass of wine and began to wonder - what kind of dog should I get?