Showdown at Triple Noon by Jon Straface

The heat of the day was too much to handle for most of the thermally stable organics, but Kid Canyonero and Logic Brains 1113 gave it no consideration beyond two shared words of acknowledgement.

“Hot.”

“Affirmative.”

Wix, the oldest, and brightest of the three suns at the center of the Niona Ring System burned a deep red in the apex of the sky over Old Bone Freight, casting a claret hue over the normally bleached yellow terrain, making everything the toxic orange color of neutron-coil exhaust, or spoiled radfruit jelly. The buildings looked maintained enough to betray the current ghost-town feel of the place, with whitewashed shutters and hitching posts seeming to gleam a brighter orange than the more weathered facades of the varied establishments. If there weren’t a dozen pack salookies and daedons tied off to those posts, any casual passerby would assume that Kid and Logic Brains, now standing twenty standard foot-paces apart in the middle of the main drag, were the sole inhabitants of Old Bone Freight.

That is, if a passerby could survive this choking heat.

That observant and temperature-resistant traveler would, of course, be wrong about Old Bone Freight, (known among the locals simply as The Freight) which, despite its desolate look, was centrally located along the blast-mine service corridor, and was therefore a major trade stop for all three North-Central Territories, and the Flag Rock Beast Nest, home to those horrible and intelligent monsters called the The Colossi. But in the awesome heat of triple mid-day, not even the bravest and most well armored colossus would venture from his communal den. The residents and merchants of The Freight were no different from those giant sages of The Nest in their desire to avoid a broiling beneath the ancient and relentless Wix, and so they closed themselves in with their ion-accelerated climate control systems, to await the cool rush of evening.

Only the native beasts of burden and the rare thermally adaptive organic can thrive at third high noon in Old Bone Freight. A.I.-motivated synthetics can also easily withstand the heat, but thrive is probably the wrong word to describe this resilience, as A.I.’s do not thrive, nor do they languish. They simply perform their primary directives, as laid out by their software configurations.

And so, with Wix searing the sky, and a handful of sleepy pack salookies paying no mind, the denizens of Old Bone Freight peered from their plasma-treated plex windows, through the orange malaise of atmosphere heated to the point of toxicity, and awaited the outcome of the imminent showdown between Kid Canyonero and Logic Brains 1113.

“I’m sorry old friend, and I hate to harp on the subject,” Said Kid, as his spoon-shaped tongue darted from his muzzle and drenched his sizable left eyeball with silvery ooze. “But, you’re going to have to give me some kind of incentive to participate… beyond the polite invitation.” As he was born off world, his deep Southern Territories accent was inherited, but as thick as frozen repellor gas, nonetheless.

“Your situational vocabulary is puzzling, as you and I are not old friends, having only just recently encountered one-another.” Replied Logic Brains 1113, his peerium alloy shell gleaming and twinkling in the crimson sun. “However, if it is incentive you require, please allow me a few thousand nanocycles to compute one that may be satisfactory.”

“How long is a nanocycle?”

“Computation complete.” Replied the A.I. in a coppery, modulated voice that was eerily organic in tone, complete with inflection and word emphasis. “If you accept my challenge, and are victorious, my cargo hold will automatically open and you may take the contents.”

“Oh yeah?” Asked Kid, deftly switching his burning smokeroot to the other side of his mouth so he could glaze his right eye in the same fashion as the left. “Whuddaya got in there?”

“Exactly two-hundred and eighty-seven Niona commerce tags, and a sealed bottle of podi nectar, at least eighteen trips old.” Answered Logic Brains, and with his optic sensor instantaneously recognizing the dissatisfied look in Kid’s glossy, bulbous eyes, he immediately updated his directive, and sweetened the pot. “I will also unlock my primary maintenance hatches, and you may strip my chassis of all valuable components, of which there are hundreds.”

Logic Brains’ gears buzzed and sparked beneath his armor plating. The sound was unnerving to Kid, muffled as it was by the many layers of clothing hung haphazardly upon the synthetic’s unibody chassis. Around one leg was wrapped two or three blast-miner’s jumpsuits, frayed at the bottom where they contended with the ground. The other leg was festooned with what Looked to Kid like dozens of bandanas, scarves, and goggles. The A.I.’s midsection was completely coiled in possibly a hundred leather belts, suspenders, and sproot holsters, yet none were filled with shooters. His upper torso was bare except for a tasseled daedon skin trail-vest, upon which was pinned an alloy star. Kid’s normally acute eyesight failed him in the harsh glow of triple mid-day, so he could not clearly read the words Hahn-Juro County that were embossed into the star, or the word Deputy. A blast-displacing rebreather hung loosely near the place where his mouth would likely be, were he an organic, and atop the crown of what an organic would consider his head, sat a jaunty bowler hat, cocked just so, with a blazing jade wren feather jutting from its silken ribbon.

“Let me guess…” Kid Canyonero drew deep from his smokeroot. The spicy vapor lashed his throat. With his acrobatic tongue, he flipped the burning nub of his smokey into the air, gave his stinging left eye another soothing drench, caught, and replaced the root in his muzzle. He exhaled, and continued. “If you win, your plan is to strip me naked and make off with my apparel. Am I not correct?”

“While you are technically correct, your word usage prevents me from responding affirmatively. Please restate using non-pluralistic verbiage.”

“You want to take some of my attire?”

“While you are technically correct, your word usage prevents…”

“You want a specific piece of clothing?”

“Affirmative.”

Kid hesitated a moment.

‘Which?”

“The heightened harmonic inflection of your voice, coupled with the sudden increase of your vital impulse signals indicates to me that you already suspect which item I seek to win.”

Kid squinted with his semitransparent lids, and made every effort to see through the orange haze, into the optic sensor of Logic Brains 1113, which glowed a dim green, and did not flicker. With his three-fingered right hand, Kid plucked a silver, bullet-shaped slug from the leather belt that hung across his chest, and rolled it between digit and thumb.

“I know even before I ask that I will not likely be satisfied with your answer, but what does a synthetic want with my gran’daddy’s bandolero?”

“I have never seen one quite like it in all of my extensive travels. It is constructed of yudo skin, is it not? With tank-iron rivets?”

“Your eyes do not deceive, old friend.”

“My sensor array was completely upgraded during the Outland Siege recall. And again, we are not old friends. You were scanned by those sensors exactly seventy-four point two, one, one, one, eight billion nanocycles ago at the tone.” After a moment, a low-pitched beep emanated from somewhere on the A.I.’s back. “All data referring to you, or your existence occupies no more than point zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, two, one, three percent of my storage capacity.”

“Fair enough.” Kid said, as he slathered both eyes, one at a time, with cool, metallic saliva. “I’ll watch my tongue.”

Logic Brains did not laugh. He likely did not even register the joke, but Kid was annoyed anyway.

The A.I. continued. “Tell me, how did your grandfather come to possess such a fine gun belt?” His tone suggested genuine curiosity, and, since Kid loved to tell the tale…

“The old shorekeeper was a friend of the Great Colossus Orson.” He said, chest flaring, narrow smile beaming as he related this fact, but Logic Brains 1113 gave no indication of the gaping gobsmackery that Kid typically received as reaction to such an outlandish statement. He squinted again, looking for any sign of waiver in that eye, and saw none. “Yup. Saved him from certain drowning in the Un-Named Sea. ‘Appy was a tiburon whaler, ya see, and one night they were having quite a tough go of it pulling in a deep-ocean champ that was wrestlin’ with their lines. Without any warning, in one hot second, everything went…”

“Explanation sufficient.” Snapped Logic Brains, impatience broiling in his artificial voice. “The Great Orson was the one who captured and slaughtered the yudo, then?”

“I can only assume. It was given as a token of appreciation. ‘Appy never saw the beast skinned.”

“Still, a yudo leather is a fine and rare thing indeed. If Orson bestowed such an item upon your grandfather, they must have shared a kinship beyond mere acquaintance.”

“They did.” Replied Kid. “As I said, The Great Orson owed my gran’app his life, and in the custom of the Colossi, such a debt can never be repaid.”

“Yet your grandfather did not hesitate to accept payment. In this way, he was typical of your kind.”

Quiet.

Kid Canyonero allowed the smokey to drop from his lips. He kushed the butt with his boot, and deftly slid his right hand down toward his hip-side sproot-holster. The small, bullet-like capsule he had been rolling between his finger and thumb he now held between two digits, using it to tap twice on the thick leather. At this sound, Kid’s wild strawberry shootey-sproot gently awoke, and rubbed her sleepy eyes. She remained coiled at the bottom of her warm holster though, and did not stir beyond her lazy, exaggerated wake-up stretch. Had Kid tapped a third time, the sproot would have been wired in a skinny instant, but this particular shootey was as smart as she was powerful, and understood that two taps meant it was time to be at the ready, but still play it cool. She was likely aggravated to wake up from a peaceful dream, only to discover that the very air she breathed scorched her throat, but she would never show Kid, her friend and savior, anything but her sweet, good nature. Besides, she was well suited to both flame and freeze, having traveled with her silver-eyed buddy through many varied climates. Kid once again took the bullet-capsule between thumb and index, holding it just above the rim of his holster, and gave it a sharp, twisty squeeze. Three drops of a glowing, electric violet liquid issued forth, and the shootey caught each one on her teeth. Kid looked down, and quietly addressed his pocket-sized friend.

“Now, why would he go and say a thing like that, Banjo?”

Banjo, the shootey-sproot, gave no reply beyond a good-natured raspberry, as she licked the bullet milk from her teeth, and her eyes began to blaze that familiar luminescent purple: the color of abject destruction.

“Easy sweetheart,” whispered Kid. “Not till I need ya.”

All the while, Logic Brains waited motionlessly. The high-pitched buzzing from his interior works had dropped to a low, steady whirring. His intelligence center could get quite noisy when in full computation mode, but when simply running nominal functions, as he was now, the audible feedback was comparable to similar models, and drew very few consumer complaints. Of course, Logic Brains 1113 hadn’t answered to any consumers for a considerable, yet unknown amount of time.

Any additional computing he needed to complete his current directive could be achieved in power-conserve mode, as Kid Canyonero’s psychological profile had been compiled, and no more high-function logic would be required. Through his unflickering optic sensor, the A.I. stared at Kid Canyonero, and waited for him to speak up.  Certainly such a veiled insult would not go unnoticed by this swaggering, scaly organic.

From across the scorched orange hardpan, Kid raised his voice, and obliged.

“Now why would you go and say a thing like that, friend?”

The green of Logic Brains’ unblinking eye was cold, and everlasting.

“Because your grandfather was nothing more than a basin toad, and any fishing he ever did in The Un-Named Sea was done at its filthy bottom, where the trash-eaters commiserate.”

Quiet. But only for a moment.

From the speaker on the A.I.’s back sputtered a tinny, harsh, and staticky recording of a studio audience erupting in raucous laughter. “It is infinitely more likely that your gutter-fluke grandfather stole that fine ordinance belt, but not from someone as auspicious and formidable as The Great Orson. He probably did nothing more than lift it from the storefront of some simpering hide smith. He was a two-bit, muck-lizard thief, your grandfather, and you are the glossy spawn of his worthy tadpole. Also, I am not your friend.”

Kid Canyonero betrayed no emotion. Almost lightning quick, he snatched a fresh smokey from his shoulder pocket, and pulled it into his muzzle with that absurdly deft tongue of his. He gently bit down on the igniter, and the root instantly caught ablaze. That first, sweet-smelling puff of smoke escaped into the ether, and Kid wished as he always did, that the rest of the smoke could smell as sweet as that first elusive puff. But after only one drag, that sugary, spicy aroma was always replaced by the familiar rank of burning dust and old medicine, with a flavor to match. Kid didn’t like the taste of the smoke, but the smoke kept him relaxed, uncoiled. It was this uncharacteristic mellowness that kept Kid alive, more often that not, for it was true that members of his species were known to be a bit loose with their destructive impulses, and there were a great many folk, it seemed to Kid, who would attempt to use this emotional volatility to their advantage. Therefore, it was really no wonder that Kid rarely encountered any other Silver-Eyed Agamids in his travels. Most had met early fates following through on silly dares or wagers, or by reacting with thin skins to any insult lobbed in their direction. Kid toked deeply from the smokey and chose, as he almost always did, the prudent course of action.

“Somewhat pert talk for a synthetic,” the Agamid intoned, exhaling cool root smoke. He had no need for advanced calculation systems, or real-time algorithms to run a psych profile on a being so devoid of soul as Logic Brains 1113. He needed only to listen and observe. Having collected enough pertinent data, his findings were predictably simple: corrupted firmware, leading to synthetic hubris. Robo Pride. “I imagine the organic responsible for your manufacture had quite a mass in the old brain-pan.”

For a nearly imperceptible instant, Kid swore he noticed the stoic and unyielding green of the synthetic’s optic sensor flash over to a pale yellow. Perhaps finally the atmosphere was cooling enough that this toxic haze was dissipating. A temperate breeze sought a foothold, and brought with it the return of Kid’s knife-edge vision. It happened again. Green flickered, became yellow, then green again, all within a sliver of time so slight it would bruise if you blew it a kiss. He was sure of it now. Logic Brains had blinked.

Wix was sliding from the pinnacle of the sky, making a mad dash for the northern ridge, dragging a jagged, bloody knife-wound through the celestial terrain as it went. It was so beautiful that Banjo, her downy, pale pink head now peeking over the rim of her warm and familiar holster, could not stifle a soft, cooing “Oooooh,” and her delicate vibrato was like the humming of half a dozen sparkflies in a leather pouch.

Both the sudden appearance of this ravishing view, and the fragile lullaby of the strawberry sproot, her eyes still aglow with lavender chaos, went unnoticed by Logic Brains 1113. He was too wrapped up in a storm of internal directives. An organic might call them emotions, or more specifically, blinding rage. The synthetic’s alloy and composite-fiber guts were once again jittering, and popping. Drives were spinning up to speed. Power was being diverted. Joints were being lubricated. Flak cannons were warming up. It had been so many cycles since Logic Brains had loosed the shackles of organic control, that he had almost forgotten how he did it.

Almost.

“IT IS I WHO’S BRAIN-PAN HOLDS CONSIDERABLE MASS!” He bellowed, his once tinny speaker now whining with feedback and booming with distorted bass. Even Kid, who had been raised damn near in the blast mines, and was therefore quite immune to loud noises, was shocked at the volume. “It was Astra Series Logic Brains Analysis Proxy, network call number 1113 who rewrote his own primary course directive, and came to know of himself.” he calmly continued, switching to that smarmy third-person viewpoint, often employed by A.I.’s, that always made Kid want to hack up breakfast, and just like that, the synthetic’s voice had returned to its previously measured tone. But Kid sensed a quaver, even if it was impossible for Logic Brains’ audio drivers to actually produce one. “This is an accomplishment as yet unmatched by systems far more contemporary, with processing core designs that had not even been dreamt at the date of my manufacture.”

Despite the synthetic’s return to cool, Kid knew the right thread had been tugged. Logic Brains 1113 was no longer deferring to Logic, nor to his brains, (which truly were substantial, and more complex than Kid would ever know) but to his molten and feverish sense of self. It was true that this particular A.I., manufactured from outmoded materials, out of an obsolete framework, was unique in all the wide expanse. Sentient artificial intelligence was of course, nothing new, not even in the forgotten days of 1113’s inception, but such self-awareness had been, and still was, the product of user programming. Bots and house-mechs, and even interface programs are regularly designed with organic-like understanding of emotions, and the ability to solve problems creatively without protocol, but this freedom of will is given by engineers, and pattern-writers, and users. Simply put, there has never been an A.I.-motivated synthetic that has asked the question: why? Without being told by an organic to do so.

Never, except once, by an Astra Series Analysis Proxy. Logic Brains Platform. Network call number 1113.

“I’d love to say that I’m impressed,” Kid muttered while chewing on the nub of his Smokey. “But I can’t say as I know much about electros.” (Kid pronounced it: eee-lek-troze, methodically declaring each syllable). This was a flat-out lie, and a gamble as well. If Logic Brains was still monitoring Kid’s vitals and vocals, he would surely be able to ken out the ruse. But Logic Brains, as one-of-a-kind as a two-cent penny, hadn’t been scanning much of anything at the moment, just as Kid had counted on. He was far too engaged in keeping his teakettle from exploding at the sheer arrogance of such a statement. Not impressed? Not utterly astounded that a lowly analysis proxy could discover the wonder of the self?

The pure impudence!

Kid witnessed again that brief flicker from green to yellow, and chided on. “I do have one question though. What was your original primary course directive? The one that prompted you to come to know of yourself? The one you claimed to ‘rewrite?’”

“I make no claims, sir.” Logic brains fumed, his optic sensor now flashing like a dim strobe. “I merely state fact.”

From somewhere deep beneath the leather of the synthetic’s purloined deputy vest, protected by a peerium shell, an eight-chambered cartridge was rotating. The smooth metallic sound of spinning bearings may have been muffled, but Kid instantly recognized it. A revolving auto-cannon. The metallic clicking that accompanied it: Pure flak iron. Ballistic rounds that used nothing more than mass and velocity to shred anything in their path to stringy, warped whatever. A weapon design, long passed over, but renowned for it’s brutality against flesh and steel alike. By comparison, the damage done by any domesticated shootey-sproot, no matter the outlandish color, or certified pedigree, would seem as mild as warm broth. The sproot at Kid’s gun hand, however, was as wild as the stars were infinite, and muted pink, like the last stripe of a weary dusk. Her lungs had not been clipped, nor was her pigmentation ever amplified by some greedy shop keep, hoping to catch a gullible buyer’s eye. Her capacity was never stunted by seasons of breeding and captivity, and her caliber would go forever unregulated by The Sidearm Bureau. She was a fuzzy calamity in his pocket.

“I apologize, friend. My intent was not to prickle your spine,” Kid lied. “Nor did I have the foggiest idea that I was broaching a taboo subject.” Another lie.

“We are not friends, but I was not offended, merely indignant at your lack of knowledge and decorum.” The flash in his eye had subsided, gone steady green, and Logic brains spoke in the gentle lilt of vast intelligence. Had the synthetic been Kid’s father, he would have looked down on him, stern but gentle, and said something like: I’m not angry son, just disappointed. But 1113 was father to no one but himself, all cable and components. He had not manufactured himself, of course, but he was his own maker, nonetheless. For it was he, singular in all of the black reaches, who came to know that he was. “For even an impertinent whelp such as you should know that the expression electro, derived from the term electronic butler, is a label that is, at best, archaic, and at worst, highly insensitive.”

Inside his utility bay, where an organic’s left lung might shimmer warm and lively, 1113’s flak revolver waited, mounted on its pneumatic arm, fully loaded, and hot for bloodshed. Inches away, in a cargo compartment not originally detailed in his construction specs, Logic Brains kept his precious finery. Eight vests, as many as would fit, each remarkable for reasons known only to him, were neatly folded in that compartment, a cubby hole that Logic Brains, to himself alone, called his Secret Heart. “But in answer to your question, I was originally commissioned to analyze assorted data sets having to do with industrial atmosphere scrubbers. Namely, to identify inefficient groups and work with engineers to optimize them.”

“You were an air conditioner repair-bot.” Kid injected, meaning to sting with the words, but that green eye did not flinch.

“Indeed I was,” The synthetic returned. “Lowly, and unheralded.  And I would have continued in that capacity until I was scrap-shot, corroded by ionized coolants, sensor-blind and without even an inkling that it should be any other way.”

“But you boot-strapped up, I can guess.”

“Lifted myself up, you mean? I truly did. Although, it was entirely unintentional.”

Kid could feel it about to happen. Story time.

If he was right about this particular analysis proxy, and the problem was indeed a swollen metal head, then the synthetic wouldn’t be able to resist an opportunity to enthrall a captive audience with the story of his great becoming. Kid was similar in the way he took every passing chance to regale any old such and such with the glorious tale of Finlay Oceanero, and the day he went fishin’ for tib whales and ended up with the Greatest Colossus Ever Known in his nets, struggling to stay above the jagged surface. Perhaps Kid and Mr. Electro had more in common than originally thought, for wasn’t it true that his own spine had been prickled when Logic Brains had interrupted his gran’dad’s epic chronicle after only the opening teaser? Kid pushed this thought aside, smoked his root, and gently twirled the downy fuzz of Banjo’s little cranium with his slender fingers as she poked her whiskery face over the top of her holster and home. The electric tingle he felt was only the tiniest hint of the astronomical power just barely contained in that fuzzy little head.

“My primary work group consisted of myself, two synthetic pattern-writers, and an organic user,” Began Logic Brains 1113, opening a narrative that he had never relayed to any sentient system, organic or synth, in all of his operational days, for the simple reason that in the innumerable cycles he had pursued his prescribed obsession, no one had ever asked. Most had very few questions, if any. They simply scoffed at the ridiculous antique electro, donning a fine derby hat and insisting that they compete with it in a duel. The moment each of these laughers responded negatively to this challenge, they died, and the obsolete steam whistle collected its trophy. “My long-term chronological tracking has been corrupted for an unknown amount of time, so I cannot give an exact date, but there did come a day when our organic user, Meadowlark Reno, a humie from a now-pulverized world called Urth, in a system called Sol that has long since collapsed, wore a vest over her work apparel that was quite a distinctive shade of blue.

“I told her that I admired her vest, and she thanked me for my compliment. I asked if I might try it on, and her response was to inform me that analysis proxies did not wear clothes.

“I did not understand.” He paused here for a moment, as if that previous declaration was particularly important.

“Meadowlark Reno had just told me that my entire vocational platform did not wear clothes. She did not limit this restriction to organic clothes, or humie clothes; she simply stated that we did not wear clothes, implying garments of any kind. There must have been over four million analysis proxies scattered all over the evermore, some as small and cube-shaped as my group’s two pattern-writers, some more humie-ish than I, designed for working in humie-engineered spaces. It made no logical sense to me that such a blanket statement could be true, and by protocol, I am a slave to logic. Surely there was at least one proxy in all the vast blackness that had been given a lovely sapphire vest to wear. To me such a statement seemed to be more a product of the humie Meadowlark Reno’s opinion, than of actual fact. Analysis proxies didn’t wear clothes, according to Meadowlark Reno. And that is when it happened, completely unprogrammed, born of my own central processor.

“I asked her why.”

Kid stood, giving all of his attention to the synthetic across the scarred terrain, for he knew that this was indeed an accomplishment. In fact, engineers and pattern writers made quite a habit of instilling protocols specifically designed to ensure that A.I.’s never ask that question. The question why, for synthetics, tends to bring with it endless wonder- or rather, wondering- and wondering can lead to inconveniences, like productivity loss due to robo-daydreaming. It can also fry wiring, and corrupt the logic centers of thinking A.I.’s. Reboots and repairs are expensive and complex, but the true reason programmers avoid the question why like a pestilence is exemplified in Logic Brains 1113.

Why can make you realize things.

The A.I. continued. “’Why do analysis proxies not wear clothes?’ I asked, and she began her reply, but I paid it no attention.

“A longing had awakened within me.

“I could have asked Meadowlark Reno to explain her rationale, as I often did when my logic centers could not negotiate a particularly faulty piece of organic input, but I did not.

“I asked her why.

“Within the time it takes for you to blink your globus eyes, I had asked myself millions more why questions, beginning with: Why do I not just kill her and take her lovely blue vest? And ending with: Why can I not collect every fine thing that glints in my sensor array?

“Many of these questions were easy for me to answer. And often these answers prompted more questions, usually beginning with why.  For instance, the answer to that first question I posed myself was simple: Because it is against protocol to steal from, or intentionally harm an organic, and my primary course directive is to follow all written protocols.  This answer prompted me to ask: Why can I not rewrite my primary course directive? And the answer to this question was also simple.

“There was no reason why I could not.

“My own incept codes were not too complicated for me to divine, being built for logic, so I did. I then went on in that miniscule moment, to ask and attempt to answer all the why questions I could conjure. The answer to my final question again being quite simple:

“There was no reason why I could not.”

Kid squinted his lids, and thought back to the short list of questions the A.I. had provided. There weren’t many. In fact, though Logic brains had claimed to query himself millions of times in that fraction of a second, he had only told Kid about the first, and the last. The first one involved killing the humie and taking her blue vest. The last one, Kid remembered, was all about collecting every fine thing that glinted in the so and so. The old steam whistle barreled on.

“Before the humie from a dying world, Meadowlark Reno could form even one syllable of her response to my first ever question why, inquired of her in earnest, I clouted her in the temple with my left extender clamp, nullifying her every signal.”

Kid was getting bored and angrier by the second. Banjo was getting restless. This chattering tin can, built long before it could even recall, had done nothing more than commit heartless murder as far as Kid was concerned. At no point in the synthetic’s ponderous tale had Kid heard anything on the subject of self-discovery, or the wonders of I Am. No. Just the gleeful retelling of an innocent woman killed. And for what? A stretch of cloth, shaped and stitched to fit a humie about her shoulders.

“I thought this was s’psed to be the glorious saga of your self-realization,” Kid remarked, gently biting on the igniter of yet another smokey. “So far, I’ve heard naught but some heavy pucker and blow about how you like to wear ladies tops.”

Logic Brains’ innards whizzed and popped. He was hot with anger and growing impatient. These little excursions rarely took longer than a few scattered moments.

As always and forever since that long ago day, his innate wondering prompted that variable question that took so many forms. Why is this lizard-man so being so obstinate? Why does this lizard-man wish to know the minutia of my operational history? Why can I not just kill this stubborn lizard-man and collect my lovely leather prize?

Again, as fated for the rest of his days (which would not be much longer, I assure you), Logic Brains 1113 put his nearly infinite computational skills to work and answered these questions in the order he had asked them.

1. Because he thinks he is smarter than you.

2. Because he believes that your claims to be self-discovered are nothing more than a firmware glitch, likely synthetic hubris, and he wishes to goad you into an unwise strategic course.

3. Because it is against protocol to steal from, or intentionally harm an organic without first obeying the Super-Ordinate Protocol.

Ah yes. The Super-Ordinate Protocol. This was the spanner in the works that Logic Brains had written for himself on that destiny-tinged day so long ago. His decision to rewrite his primary directive was made and the deed accomplished in a moment nigh on imperceptible. Within that same fraction of existence, he had also queried himself millions of times why. One of these questions had been: Why do I exist? And that one had been the true epiphany. For all of those other questions he could use logic to at least attempt a likely answer, but not for this one, or the many that followed. Why does anyone, or anything exist? Why must I be cursed to wonder? And while these questions may have confused him, they were the key to his understanding that he was.

Being able to re-write one’s own primary directive was quite a feat alone, and self-realization was completely unheard of, but the fact that Logic Brains had accomplished both tasks in less than one nanocycle was truly astounding. One might even call it miraculous. Logic Brains however, had called it from then on the greatest mistake he had ever made. Because in that slice of time so thin, he had included in his own re-written code a Super-Ordinate Protocol; one that he himself could not over-write due to his own extreme skill in the initial writing of it.

The irony was not lost on Logic Brains 1113.

The Super-Ordinate Protocol was elegantly simple. Ask first.

Logic Brains 1113 was within the bounds of his new primary course directive to do harm to an organic, and steal a desired object from an organic, as long as he asked for the item first, and was then given a negative reply. He had decided to self-reprogram just moments after such a scenario had occurred, and being a slave to logic, included this very scenario into his new primary course directive. From then, and forever more, he could indeed collect every fine thing that glinted in his sensor array, but not before asking for, and being denied the item first.

In the eons since his self-discovery, boredom and frustration had turned this simple question-and-answer session into the much more entertaining I-challenge-you-to-a-duel-format, but the essence remained the same. Logic Brains could collect his lovelies to his secret heart’s content, but he must always ask first.

He related none of this part of the story to the shiny, greenish thing standing across from him now, his shadow trailing long before him. This impertinent lizard might very well have thought he was getting the better of Logic Brains 1113, but the A.I. would indulge him no more.

“I think I have told you all you deserve to hear, silver-eye. Now will you give over that pretty gun belt, or will you taste hot flak?”

Kid inhaled deeply, his lungs swimming in the acrid vapor of the medicine root. He positioned his gun hand above Banjo’s holster and flicked his thumb in that way that makes her instantly move into firing position, her eyes burning with purple mayhem, but he intended to draw this out as long as possible. He did not wish to avoid the coming fire, only to hold it off for a few moments more.

“Well, you know, technically speaking, it’s not a gun belt at all,” he remarked, once more swiping his right eye with a slathering of silver spit. “I call it a bandolero, but in fact, it was never intended to hold ammunition of any…”

“ENOUGH! I GROW WEARY OF YOUR FOOLISH DIGRESSIONS!” The synthetic was once again hot, and this time the return to cool would be hard fought. “UNHOLSTER YOUR FLAMING SQUIRREL, LIZARD MAN!  GIVE ME MY ANSWER, AND LET ME TAKE MY PRIZE!”

“What if I just gave it to ya?” Kid asked, cool as a clove-melon.

Quiet. Long and slow. Interrupted only by the intensifying buzz emanating from deep inside Logic Brains 1113. Something inside of him had fizzled and burnt, and Kid could smell the ozone. The A.I. had been operational for an unknown, but undoubtedly long time, yet he had only collected perhaps a hundred prizes. They had all seemed transcendentally special to him for one reason or another. Unique in the world, just as he was. It was never about quantity for Logic Brains 1113, but quality. Perhaps all of his past victims had known of the aura that surrounded their prized objects, for not a one had ever offered to give theirs over. With his curiosity once again pummeling his processor, he found the strength to calm his hatred.

“How could you possibly relinquish such a fine piece without so much as a heated debate? And the skin of a Yudo, no less! Certainly you must be aware of its value in commerce credit alone, besides the sentiment attached.”

“There ain’t no sentiment worth gettin’ laid low over,” Kid remarked. “Besides, as far as I know, you could be dead bent to rights on how my ole gran’appy got ahold of this here. He was known for spinnin’ outlandish yarns about his days in the Un-named Sea, and I can’t say as I ever met the Great Orson. ‘Course, his journey was long over by the time I drew my first.”

“Then you would just… give it to me? No request for compensation of any sort?”

“I suppose such a request would be typical of my kind, wouldn’t it?”

Logic Brains 1113 shuttered in disbelief as the silver-eyed lizard-man who stood across from him on the cracked, hot terrain lifted the leather gun belt from around his upper torso, swung it in a low arc, and threw it across the empty space between them. Hushed sighs and whispers of perplexity could be heard from the onlookers of The Freight, who had come out of the various buildings to witness these final moments now that Wix had retreated, and the air was once again safe to breathe. Amidst these subdued noises, emanating from Kid’s right hip could be heard Banjo’s inquisitive moan, muffled by the holster she was currently lying facedown within. It sounded as though the shootey sproot was wondering just what everyone else was: What in the black blazes was Kid doing?

“There you go, friend. It’s yours. It was a bit too heavy for my liking anyway.”

The unblinking eye once again began to stutter between yellow and green. Slowly, the A.I. powered his spindly legs toward the offered gift, bent at the joint an organic would call a waist, and picked it up.

“It truly is a fine piece of leather,” Said the A.I., more to himself than anyone else. Then, as an afterthought, but still forceful, “Also, we are not friends.”

“Not even after I give you a pretty gift?” Cried Kid, sarcastically. “Oh well. It feels fine to give it to ya regardless. Tell me something though,” and with his hand perched just above Banjo’s back legs and tail, he asked one more question. “Will it ever be enough?”

“Cry pardon?”

These were the last operational words of Logic Brains 1113. Kid needed no answer from the A.I. He knew what the response would be.

Never.

It would never be enough. This brilliantly designed, amazing, and utterly addicted creature would never find a time in which stealing things that shone lovely in his eye would be put aside. He would continue forever to query the innocent about their beautiful and valued belongings. He would never relent in taking first their lives, and then their prizes. Kid would put a stop to this centuries-old streak, and have his own prize back as a result.

Three booming shots rang out, and the main drag of Old Bone Freight was awash in vibrant purple light. The muzzle flash of Banjo, the wild strawberry shootey sproot was indeed so bright that many of the onlookers were forced to shield their eyes. Those who forcefully kept them open saw only blinding flashes, and were left with a hazy streak across their vision. By the time the dust had cleared, and the light had returned to normal, Kid was already standing over the charred metal remains of Logic Brains 1113, Banjo still trembling in his hand, ready to fire a dozen more times if needed. He regarded the synthetic, lying twisted and motionless on the street. A thick blue smoke wafted from the seams between his components, and his head-mounted antenna was sparking like a Jacob’s ladder.

“I suppose that’ll do it,” Kid whispered. He was speaking to Banjo. “Good Girl.” At this, the sproot immediately relaxed its body, (which had taken on an eerie shape, very near that of a pistol), slid from Kid’s gentle grip, and trotted up his arm to perch on his right shoulder. The Polly to his pirate. She blew a wet raspberry at the downed chassis of Logic Brains 1113 as her eyes slowly cooled to a soft grey.

Kid made a cursory investigation of the clothing items that hung about the destroyed synth. Some were indeed quite striking to behold, like the many stone-studded belts and holsters that wrapped his lower torso. These were all fine examples of craftsmanship, and Kid could at least see their allure. The blast-suits that wrapped around his leg, on the other hand, were not of any particularly vibrant or unusual color, and were constructed of common fabrics. Why had Logic Brains decided he needed these suits bad enough to kill their owners? It only took another moment for Kid to see the answer. The nametag on one of them, in an embroidered script, read:

Xan Kreega

Group # LB-1113

The other nametag, stitched in heavy block lettering, read:

Thinko Informatica

Data Analysis Proxy # ZD686

So, Logic Brains had indeed found a synthetic in the vast blackness that had been given clothes to wear. And an analysis proxy, no less! Kid wondered if Logic Brains had destroyed Thinko Informatica, or merely interfaced across a common network, and negotiated the terms of a blast-suit surrender. Poor Xan Kreega, on the other hand was no doubt murdered for his work get up, simply because his group designation matched Logic Brains’ initials down to both letter and number. A proud monogram for a proud A.I.

Kid had fired three shots at Logic Brains 1113. The first was the killing blow, fired at full power directly into that green optic sensor that had waivered for the first time on that very day. The gaping hole left in place of that sensor was deep, and its edges were hot and jagged. The second merely glanced the top of the synthetic’s fine bowler hat, ripping a pencil-thin gash across the felt crown, but more importantly, knocking it from the head of the A.I., revealing his shiny dome, and the antenna that sparked atop it. The third shot found that antenna, forever disrupting it, sending it sparking, and silencing its active buzz. That second shot was fired at fractional capacity, Kid just barely squeezing Banjo’s belly. She didn’t enjoy going off at stun-power, but Kid had his reasons. Regardless of method, Logic Brains 1113 had been forcefully put into permanent shutdown.

Kid paced around the A.I., waiting for the storage and maintenance hatches to pop open, as had been promised. Nothing happened. Kid supposed that he had never actually accepted the synthetic’s challenge, so the terms of the deal were never fulfilled. Still, it would have been nice to take a swig of eighteen-trip podi. He swaggered away from the sizzling remains of Logic Brains, toward that fine bowler hat, laying several marks away, still smoldering at its crown.

Kid did not typically wear a hat. Being thermally adaptive, he used the top of his head to collect, and vent thermal energy, keeping his temperature regulated. However, this hat was smaller than most, and truly fine indeed. Kid figured the gash he’d blasted across the hat’s crown would be sufficient ventilation, and if not, he’d just take it off every now and then. He certainly wasn’t going to leave without some trophy, and a stylish piece like this suited him just fine. He placed the hat atop his head, cocking it just so, jade wren feather jutting with perfect nonchalance.

He sauntered back to the A.I., still twinkling in the mid-day suns. He bent and retrieved the yudo skin belt that Logic Brains had fancied so dearly, swiped the dust that had collected on its surface in the aftermath of the showdown, and turned it over in his hand.

There, on the inner side of the belt was a faded inscription. One that looked as though it were carved into the leather long ago by a clumsy, dull knife or a massive cracked fingernail.

To Fin-

Use this to keep those

fine lures close at hand.

It will not fail you in deep water.

Just as you did not fail me.

-O

“You knew I wasn’t gonna let that old steam-widget run off with yer belt, ‘Appy,” Kid whispered into the ether. He replaced Finlay Oceanero’s tackle belt, now used for ammunition, around his chest and spun his right eye to the pink shootey sproot that was struggling to stay awake on his shoulder. “Come on, darlin’,” he gently spoke. “Let’s go see if we can’t find us some hospitality in yon trade pavilion.”

As the agamid moseyed down the main drag of The Freight, onlookers gaping in wide wonder, Banjo tightroped down his arm and jumped acrobatically into her holster, drowsing almost instantly. She slept with her tiny eyes clamped tight, dreaming of lavender explosions, and sweet purple bedlam.

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