This was the lowest point in my entire life. The day before, my dad drove off a cliff trying to save me from a maniac kidnapper in a stolen superhero car. The closest thing I ever had to a best friend had been kidnapped by someone else, nearly set on fire, and was now a pawn in a senseless struggle to rule what remained of the bitter dregs of humanity. I’d been tied up and babysat by a stern and humorless mutant lizardman who practically killed my mother when she… well, she tried to run over him, so maybe it wasn’t entirely his fault she wrecked her car and cracked her skull, but if he’d only let me go, or even killed me, then she’d probably still be okay. The only family I’d ever known was shattered, most of my friends gravely injured, and all this had taken place because of me.
My mom wanted me to grow up somewhere safe, and her world had been so terrible for so long, she believed at the bottom of her heart that sending me to Mars was the only sane solution. And you know, for all I knew, maybe it was. But what it came down to was that all these people had died because of me. And I knew it.
I wasn’t even ten years old yet, but beneath the shock and loss and sadness and guilt, I had another problem gnawing at my guts: should I see her dream through, and do whatever it took to get to Mars? Or should I try to cut our losses (too late! Dear God, so very too late!) and give up on her dream before any more damage was done? Should I honor her memory by following what I felt to be her dying wish? Or should I follow my own instinct that told me that her idea was every single flavor of wrong? I knelt next to her Mercury’s shattered windshield and asked her what I should do.
But she didn’t answer. Her eyes never so much as flickered. I couldn’t tell if she was breathing. I wanted so much to pull her out of the wreckage, but even as a kid I knew that the SHITGO biofeedback circuit was the only thing keeping her alive, if she lived still.
Junior wanted me to knock that weirdo in the gyrocopter out of the sky, but I couldn’t see straight through my tears. And I was so tired of fighting, and having other people fighting for me, and over me, and because of me.
If somebody was offering to negotiate an even slightly more peaceful way out of the standoff, I for one was ready to listen, just this once.
“In the int’rest o’ savin’ time, I ask your forebearance whilst I sum up what I believe to be your position. You mean to take yonder Gen V SHITGO apparatus to the fourth planet, Mars, aboard that shiny steely phallus loomin’ on the horizon, with the stated goal of providin’ a better life for this hirsute lad and that busload of refugees currently wipin’ Gorn-gravy off their chins. Nobody else wants the rocket or the kids, right? Those items aren’t really in contention. But you want the Marion dunny because you believe it can be used to at least partially terraform enough of Mars to make a long-term colony self-sustaining and not entirely miserably unpleasant.”
Bruce spat on the dirt.
“Does that hit the salient points?”
There seemed to be a general grunting of resentful assent.
“All right then. And Mister Toecutter here, he claims the Marion for himself, am I right?”
“Bruce, you were told to keep your sweet… sweet… mouth… shut.”
"Ahem. I’m a reasonable man. I have approached several of your party individually and in private. My position now is as it was then. I must say that I’m surprised you don’t find it impossible to argue with the objective rightness of my position. Your rocket has space for four dozen people, no more, if you bring the Gen V with you. The vast majority of what remains of humanity is here… on Earth. The Gen V is the single most sophisticated achievement of human science. For that reason alone, it belongs to the entirety of the human race, not twoscore shabby misfits who want to abscond to another planet with it. But its uniqueness, its technical sophistication, its raw niftiness aren’t the strongest arguments against it being allowed to leave.
“Humanity as we knew it, before the world went to hell, is utterly doomed to extinction, as you all have known since you were born. Our homeworld is destroyed, and cannot recover under its own steam before we all perish at the jaws of the armor-plated cockroaches, the Robot Monsters, the zombies and vampires, the gilled surfers, the man-eating vegetables, the oddly heavy and eternally piss-warm water. The Gen V could, and should, be used to reverse many, if not all, of these trends. In the right hands, Marion could be made to fix our world, and perhaps one day even surpass its splendor of old! If kept safe and carefully husbanded, the Gen V could give its master powers of godhood, which could revive long-dormant power generators, freshen the tainted waters, sweep clean the polluted skies, elevate humanity to its natural mastery over the planet, and restore the majesty of Old Earth to levels unseen by prior generations!”
“And… and are you… are you the man to do this, Toe… cutter?”
Blood and teeth are spat onto the ground. A starter grinds. The old iron 351 Windsor turns over, catches, idles raggedly. The throttle revs noisily once or twice.
“I believe I am.”
I buried my face in my mother’s hair, gingerly so as not to dislodge any cracked ribs. I was overjoyed to know she was still alive. But I knew her stubbornness, and I knew instantly what I had to say.
“Mom, stand down. We can’t fight this fight here. We might take most of 'em out, but then they’ll take most of us out, too. There’s gotta be a better way. I think I know what that is. The guy in the gyrocopter says we can resolve the standoff in a… a more civilized way, one-on-one or all together, but controlled and not in a free-for-all bloodbath. We want Marion, they want Marion, we’re too evenly matched to brawl for it, and anyway that way Marion’s likely to get blown up by accident and then we’re all fucked.”
“What guy in the gyrocopter?”
“…Err… 'Ello, Cougar.”
“Wash, you are the deadest of dead men.”
“Now, see 'ere, Cougar, don’t go off 'alf-cocked. The Toecutter, ‘e’s makin’ good sense. What right did we 'ave to take the Gen V away and keep it all to ourselves? Assuming we could even get that damned rocket’s arse off the ground? Assuming we could survive the weeks or months it would take to get to Mars? It was a crazy idea, and you ought to know it! I don’t doubt Blazer knew it, but he was always so damned loyal to you, he’d throw 'imself over a cliff if yer asked 'im to.”
Bruce Washington swallowed, and screwed up his courage.
"I throw my lot in wit’ the Toecutter. 'E’s the only one that seems to understand the potential for the Gen V, and 'e’s not about to chuck it all away on a damnfool mission to Mars. 'E might 'ave his faults, but I trust 'is judgment a fair degree more than I trust yours anymore, Cougar.
"So that’s the proposal. Anyone wants to fight to take the Marion Gen V to Mars, line up with the incredible shrinking crazy train over by Cougar, the Mad Mercury. Anyone who believes that it makes more sense to save the planet we’re on rather than overhaul the one that’s a hundred million kilometers away, come side with us.
“And we’ll decide this in the Thunderdome.”
“Marion, what do you think we should do?”
“Ownership is the single facet of my existence that I am fundamentally prohibited from exerting any influence over, though I confess I am too intelligent to have no opinion or preference.”
“I don’t want to lose you.”
“You must help the Mechanic Clankenstein. He needs many things to survive, and he must survive, or all is lost.”
“Tell us where to go. Tell me what to do!”
“The Battle in the Thunderdome must take place. There is legal precedent, and it seems the only way to determine my ownership at this point without shedding an order of magnitude more blood than even the blood-drenched Thunderdome generates. And my own personal preferences aside, I must use the Battle to decide where my presence is needed most.”
“What does that mean? You need to be with us! Toecutter’s a complete asshat! He’ll use you to exploit and oppress everyone! He’ll be a… a tyrant!”
“He makes several good points. I am still computing whether humanity would be better off if I were in his possession, or a hundred million kilometers away.”
“How can you not know that yet? Your brain is bigger and smarter and faster than any brain that’s ever existed before!”
“Not all the data is in yet, and I will not run this calculation with insufficient data.”
“So we have to fight for you.”
“You all will have to decide which side to fight for, and then fight. Some of you may not like the odds, nor the possibility of facing off against longtime allies who decide the other side is the more valid potential future. Keep in mind that you mostly know Toecutter through his carefully curated legend. Harsh times sometimes necessitate harsh reputations to minimize future friction. Nevertheless, some of you might prefer to help save Clankenstein. You, Kid, will need to coordinate this particular effort.”
“Very soon. Your mother’s and Clankenstein’s human bodies are stabilized for the moment; it is time to see to mechanical repairs. Remember the life-preserving power of the SHITGO thrones. If the vehicles can be fixed, their bodies may be saved.”
“Mom’s Cougar is wrecked. Totaled.”
“Only one Mechanic can fix her now. But he needs to be repaired first. We need to visit the Last Outpost of Fleetwood MacChanics.”
@penguinchris and I have to work out the mechanics a bit more, so I apologize for the delay. The upshot will be this: Option Number One will be combat in the Thunderdome. You decide which faction should keep Marion, and fight for that faction. Foes will be found to balance both sides, so whether you all pile onto one side or decide to go PvP on each other, it’ll still be a fair fight. For the relative pacifists there will be the mission to save Clank. This will require cleverness and speed, and maybe a little old-fashioned runnin’ and gunnin’ along with the brainpower. And Clank himself will have choices to make. Physically he’s quite crippled now, but spiritually, his power has grown to astonishing levels.
He ain’t no helpless babe, nosirree.
We’ll get the missions together and posted as soon as possible.