Cossack's Comrades

Cossack's Comrades Season 1: Epilogue 8

Life in the Slow Lane
By Hunter

I awake at 5:30, like any other day ; the half-hour of solitude I get before the rest of my teammates activate is a welcome time-out.

By no means are they cruel or hurtful ; we may actually be close enough to count as a family, albeit one of metal-plated bodies and clockwork hearts. But dealing all day long with a golem that has the size and reflex of a beached whale tends to affect people's nerves.

This time allows me to perform the usual check-up -systems online, body operational- and to gather the results of my various sub-routines.

But I get ahead of myself. For once in my life, I take people by speed - please humor me as I cherish the moment.

I am Lento, member of the Fatal Five, and Officer of the Murmansk RPD. I am a war-machine with enough firepower to level a small district - and my book on my life as one of Wily's goons has an enjoyable success. I also dabble in painting, and can cook a delicious soufflé.

But my main feature ? Without a doubt, it's my Slowdown Cannon, both a boon and a curse. Slowing down opponents to near-immobility is a priceless advantage in a battle - but the weapon's strain on my processors has a negative repercussion on my general reflexes and world-views.

"Earth to Lento ! You awake, you big lug ?"

And there we go. So much for my morning meditation.

It takes less than a second to recognize the one in front of me : generic body, oversized back-mounted generator, a right arm that seems like a pile of weapons glued together... None other than Warpman.

Perpetually angry. Conflict-seeking. Always on the edge.

And with the potential to destroy reality.

It's a conclusion I've reached after years of careful study : seeing the Warp Gate in action, the way his energy generators gave out at the worst moments, the body language Wily displayed whenever he was near Warpman, or whenever we talked of upgrading his generators -or his reaction when we did it.

The scientific aspect is a bit of a bore, but the general idea is such : in order to teleport, Warpman opens a hole in the cloth of reality between here and there. To achieve a near-instantaneous move, that hole also crosses through time. Give him enough power, and he'll be able to space and time apart.

And I think he knows it too.

"Going to move some day, or do I have to call the movers ?"

"Unit Lento is awake. Would breakfast improve your mood ?"

"Not getting backtalk from an Atari-brain woud improve my mood."

I'll let you in on a little secret : I'm perfectly able to talk like a normal person, without the whole "Unit Lento" thing. But the "big and stupid" act means that people let me be. And it also helps me prepare what I say ; a whole second of placeholder sound means a lot at times.

As I walk with Warpman, I review the study my subroutines were working on for the last week : a complete report on our interventions the month before, with a review of our strategies and mistakes. It helps Riff prepare his training program, and it saves him valuable time.

When you're slow, you know how to plan.

We make our way to the kitchens, and are greeted by a familiar sight. A few agents, both human and robotic, walk around with coffee or an oil-based equivalent. Little known fact : nearly all Robot Masters (or equivalent) can process organic food, thanks to internal fusion. But cleaning issues, and the fact some of us don't have mouths, makes trips to restaurants and the like a bit of a rarity.

There. A table near the entrance, with our three teammates. And they have E-Tanks for us.

"Have thee rested well, companions ?"

In more ways than one, Staccato is my match : agile and melee-oriented where I'm a sturdy artillery platform. And if my mind seems slow, his attitude is slower - stuck to the Middle Ages.

"Unit Lento thanks you for your concern. Is today when we test new recruits ?"

"Ah, scrap. Pass another E-Tank that way, I'm gonna need it."

"Indeed, Lento. A new group of Robot Masters, eager to serve and protect - I hope. So I want you all on your best behaviour. Remember, we planned for this."

Ah, Riff. A great leader if I ever saw one. That is, until a single thing goes out of step - then it's panic time. I've got to admit I was that single thing more than once.

"Tour of the town, teaching the basic police tricks and evaluating them ? That shall be manageable."

"Yeah, and if they're thick-headed, you can just magic them into knowing stuff, Bird-Bot."

What a delightful and common nickname for Karasû, the last of our quintet. He's a pro when it comes to magic and standing Warpman - which, to me, are one and same.

Warpman stood up. "Time to open the Gate, I think. Did the henchmen put in the coordinates ?"

"A little respect for our agents, Warpman. And yes, it's set in. Meet you at the reception office."

To go around Warpman's energy problem, the RPD set up an amplifier for his powers. It's experimental, and -from our colleague's claims- very restricting, but it does the job of moving our visitors back and fro.

It takes a few minutes to properly set up and open the gate, so we have time to catch up with our colleagues. It seems next movie night will go without my input. Shame. 2001: A Space Odyssey may be low on action, but it gives a lot to think on mankind.

We're then at the door. From Warpman's gait, and the few sparks he gives, the energy transfer was a huge one. "There they are. Ready for a day of pain ?"

"Thou shouldn't deride these recruits, companion."

"Bah. I'm not sure about them, whoever they are. Besides, a portal for eight ? I felt it."

Riff now had his hand on the door handle. "Relax, it's not like they sent us the PC Team or something."

He opened it, and we saw our guests. "... Then again, it could've been preferable."

Surprisingly, I was the only one able (or willing) to give some input on our current situation. "Unit recognizes Cossack's Creations."

Drill Man spoke up. "It's Cossack's Comrades, whoever you are !"

That was not a name I expected to hear. Weren't they dead for 15 years, give or take a few months ?

"My god, infiltrators !" This gives credit to some "back from the dead" theory. Should they have memory backups, it's from before the day we joined the RPD.

As my teammates deal with these ... well, "antique" is a bit harsh, so I'd settle on "past visitors" ... I study them. If they're as the true Comrades, then Drill Man is the leader - but was he that jumpy and paranoid ? They all seem awfully close to the original Cossack template, without post-war upgrades. And ...

... Well, at least one of them was replaced. Or got a new handle on her gender protocols.

Huh ? Someone mentioned my name ? ... Ah, yes, presenting ourselves. I quickly wave and keep on studying the group.

Aaaaaand that plan is thrown out of the window as Toad Man keeps screeching in fear. I'm tempted to record that voice so the Fatalists can force me to focus on things.

And he keeps going. If Cossack wasn't dead, I'd swear he binged himself blind when coding that Robot Master.

Thankfully, Karasû does some magic and the green idiot finally shuts up. Now, I suppose we can go to the actual reason of today's visit.

"So, who is your leader ? Got some organization stuff to discuss before we start."

Immediately, Pharaoh ... Dame ? Girl ? Lady ? Woman ? takes the lead.

"It shall be I, great king of Murmansk ! I do hope your wool-making factories are doing well !"

... What ? King- ? Wool factories- ? That's it. I'll just shut up until things make sense. Let Riff see how it is to be behind everything.

That sounds a bit harsh, in retrospect. If we don't want a full-blown panic attack, I should get some of the nutcases with me.

The problem solves itself when Toad Man jumps into my face and ... challenges me ... to an eating contest ?

"Unit Lento does not get why."

"That's because you're huge. And it means you have HUGE GUTS ! For eating !"

That ... will not do. You're no lightweight either, Mr Kermit.

"Unit Lento requests to teach Toad Man police work. And manners. And ... politeness ?"

And Skull Man wishes to join us. The tone of his voice troubles me. He mentions that Toad Man is in constant peril of death -which, considering his attitude, doesn't surprise me-, but ... he says it the same way I'd talk about the weather.

No, it's worse than that. At least, with the weather, I'd care about getting rained on or not. He sounds more like a machine. Until further notice, I'll link that to extreme weariness or a malfunctioning vocal unit.

The matter doesn't get resolved as our tour begins. I show my guests the important places of town - as if they cared : one just stares at me, and the other offers inane comments on the edibility of whatever grub he picks on the floor. Or he just asks asinine questions. Twice he threw a garbage can at me while yelling about an eating contest.

I then begin to explain the work of a police officer. Luckily, I grabbed their attention.

"So, Sumo-Guy, how do you interrogationate people ?"

Luck is overrated.

"I ask them if they did it."

"And then ?"

"I ask them if they did it."

I want to see who will break first.

"And then ?"

"I ask them if they did it."

I once managed to interrogate a suspect for 48 hours straight.

"And then ?"

"I ask them if they did it."

The robo-coroner later determined he went in a coma at about the tenth hour. After reanimation it turned out he actually was guilty.

" And then ?"

"I ask them if they did it."

Not of the crime we were investigating, tough. But justice still happened.

"And then ?"

"I ask them if they did it."

"And then - ooooh, a banana peel !" Score one for comical props. And he knocked himself out, leaving me with Skull Man ! Truly, mine is a blessed day.

"A fascinating method. But do they ask what they're guilty of after they admit it ?"

A question that occured more than once. To be honest, I tend not to read the files on our suspects - it would take too much time for me to process it. But when thinking about it...

"... Now Lento sees why his success rate is only 50%."

"Still, its reliability must be lauded. It fits in with the world we live in : alive, or dead." Oh boy, looks like he has some issues. If he's anything like what I remember reading on the previous Skull Men, he must fit in with them.

"This sounds like philosophy. Would you like to debate with me ?"

"We have a few hours ahead. Shall I carry my burden of a teammate ?" Exactly, "burden".

"No worry." And thus, we both learned a new use for my back-mounted mortar : carrying unconscious Robot Masters. "Now, what to debate ? Ah, yes. Are you familiar with Turgenev ?"

You may be surprised, after a first look at me, that one of my favourite subjects is philosophy. But consider this : it is a domain where discussions involve a certain downtime forming one's arguments (and, to be honest, said downtime partially happens whenever someone else than you speaks up). The same can be said of arts and, to a lesser degree, geopolitics, in which I've dabbled as well.

As enjoyable a partner as Skull Man was, I quickly noticed something unpalatable about him. In his mind, we were all doomed to die, sooner or later. He held it as his duty to delay his teammates' demise - the drive he needs in order to go on through his existence.

Morbid thoughts, to be certain, but somehow fitting for such a morbid Robot Master. There might be something else at play than his appearance and role, but further prying should wait another day.

After a while, we had reached something of a conclusion. He switched subjects in this manner : "From what my memory banks tell me, your group was originally aligned with Wily. How did you come to serve under the RPD ?" Proper manners would be another thing to teach him.

But I went and told the story. I could recite it by rote, and I realized a few other things about Skull Man.

He was definitely inhuman. It may sound hypocritical coming from me, but nearly all Robot Masters and sufficiently advanced robots have a personality based on a human's. More than merely replicating certain preprogrammed moods -like Police Bots and the majority of our menial brethren-, we learn and evolve. We enjoy things above a mere satisfaction algorithm. We dislike things, hold grudges, drown in sorrow and indulge in bad habits.

Skull Man -or Hunter, as he revealed his name- was below that. He delivered comments at the appropriate parts of my story, but not out of interest. No, it was more like a computer prompting its user for input. No curiosity either, but more like collecting information for further use in mission. He might be a fighting unit -and supposedly a good one, if that model's history is right-, but it came at the price of a spot in normal society, and what little emotions he had was a sense of his own demise.

And yet, he was the best person I engaged with in a debate so far. I could -I should- befriend him and help him become more.

And then came the time to end that day. As we gathered one last time, I had some food for thought as I observed my teammates.

At first glance, Karasû had spent a good day, chatting over some minor things with Ring Man and Bright Babe. For some reason, Drill Man was staring at Riff like he was still a Wily-Bot. Strange. Staccato kneeled in front of Pharaoh Woman and received ... oh, my. I hope it wasn't Sheep Man they took that fleece from. And Warpman was chatting with Dive Man. Knowing them, they spent the day getting smashed at Henry's. All in all, mine was just as fine.

"Give me your adress. Lento will send you a copy of his philosophy treaties."

"I look forward to exchanging about this with you again." Now that's a nice development. "Now, I believe we must wake up my teammate."

"Who ?" As I wondered who I had left out, greenish, possibly acid drool fell on my face. "Ah, yes." Time to use these artificial muscles and wake up a toad. Hopefully he's sturdy enough for a faceful of floor. And afterwards, he barely awoke that he screamed his lungs out at the sight of Karasû. What a delight.

We walked out of the room to allow Warpman to perform his "magic", and headed directly to his amplifier room. As we walked in, he was muttering something about landing someone in a specific spot. A bet he did with a friend. Hmm.

"Anyway, what's the plan now ?"

"We should decide on what results we must send to Crorq. So, what did you think of the Comrades ?"

Staccato's answer was simple, matching him. "Noble."

"Complete asses." So did Warpman's.

For my part, I had only a narrow sample to judge them on, but Riff still needed my input. "Interesting to talk with. But one was better off asleep." Hopefully, it's the only one out of the Team.

"Interested and motivated." I guess Karasû had a lucky break.

"Well, for my part, I got a paranoid and a walking encyclopedia with OCD. And on police work ?"

Police work ? With a death machine and the most annoying frog I ever saw ? Like my three colleagues, I could only shrug.

Riff sighed and suggested to give them full marks, reasoning that Crorq would stop bothering them after such results. I doubted it, but who knows how our latest Great Dictator thinks ? Apart from signs of extreme bulimia ?

But the day's shocker was yet to come.

"And after that, off to Henry's ! Drinks are on me, tonight." Warpman had really said that. The guy who called me an Atari-brain this very morning.

As he attempted to justify himself, I took a look at his posture. There was a little less of his usual arrogance, and ... something of an opening in his attitude ? I could be wrong, as the change, should it exist, was really subtle, but after knowing him for twenty years, I could spot a change.

He had spent the day with Dive Man, and more than probably Henry. I could ask our bartender friend what he saw. On the other hand, I could let it go and see what would happen.

I was more in favor of the latter. After all, it went with my natural outlook on life : take some time in the slow lane.

THE END

Cossack's Comrades

AM as Drill Man          Sean as Dust Man          Geoff as Dive Man

Jet as Bright Babe       Hunter as Skull Man

John as Ring Man       Avi as Pharaoh Woman       Flippy as Toad Man

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