ACTRON: THE END (2019/03/21)

ACTRON: THE END

by stanley lieber

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ACTRON: THE END #23 (2019/03/20)

ACTRON: THE END

#23

by Stanley Lieber

Kid, don’t crack on me now. Your government has invested a considerable amount of tax money in your future. Don’t throw it all away just because you got a little uncomfortable with your role in the arrangement. Hell, you knew this was coming. Isn’t it what you signed up for? In any case, don’t embarrass yourself. And give me a break. I’m only going to warn you once.

A message from where?

It was enough to put him off his peas. But something wasn’t right. Aside from the string of disconnected clich├ęs, the handwriting was definitely not his father’s. And his father was dead.

Wasn’t he?

Thomas tapped his tray, and noticed that it came unlatched. He removed the now dangling cover to reveal his father’s real intended payload.

A pristine Timex Sinclair 1000, with 16 KB RAM pack.

He connected the device to the panel on his cell door.

The lights went out.

THE END

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ACTRON: THE END #22 (2019/03/19)

ACTRON: THE END

#22

by Stanley Lieber

No, that wasn’t it either. Eva hadn’t been there when he figured it out. Chrysler Building Classic was still a few years away. He couldn’t keep the timeline straight.

What was happening to his memory?

He kept rubbing his eyes. He was weary of the strain. At some point he realized his visor was missing. Gone. But he could see. How could this be?

And then he remembered. Years ago. The moon. Piro’s last warning. what was it he’d said about remembering?

Sharp rapping at his cell and the little door slid open. It was his lunch. A small tray breached the tiny slot.

Thomas hated mashed potatoes, but the peas were okay.

That’s when he noticed the note form his dad.

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ACTRON: THE END #21 (2019/03/18)

ACTRON: THE END

#21

by Stanley Lieber

The comic was okay. Actually, he liked it a lot. It reminded him of the way he felt about the X-Men back when he was a kid.

He guessed. He’d keep buying it, if only for the art. (The artist would leave the book inside of six months.)

Now... There was a lot of paperwork to catch up on. His abortive trip to mars had eaten three months. Nobody had bothered to steer the (ahem) ship while he was away. It was absolutely typical.

Chrysler Building Classic utilities were behind schedule. He saw here they were threatening to turn off the lights. What had these people even been doing while he was gone.

He jabbed the button on his desk.

"Eva, what the actual fuck?"

"Fuck off!" She clicked off.

And now he still had to deal with the black coke. They’d tried altering the formula. They’d tried different packaging. Nothing seemed to work. Nobody could understand why the powder kept turning black.

"Keep your powder dry," Piro whispered, helpfully.

"Fuck off!" Thomas shouted, to no one.

But the pirate had a point: moisture could be the culprit.

Thomas walked down the hallway to discuss the possibility with his wife.

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ACTRON: THE END #20 (2019/03/17)

ACTRON: THE END

#20

by Stanley Lieber

Back at his desk, Thomas took off his visor and rubbed his ruined eyes. Everything was in its place: the framed picture of his family, the lucite block containing a laser etching of a Lockheed Martin F-35A, the news clippings and magazines photos he had pinned to the wall. He sipped his coffee and pressed the button to call his secretary.

"Eva, could you come in here please."

Chrysler Building Classic systems were on the fritz. Several minutes elapsed, and Thomas wasn’t sure if she had got the message. Just as he was about to try again, the speaker squawked to life.

"I’m not your secretary," she finally said. It was true. She was his wife. "What do you want?"

"Have the comics been delivered yet?" he asked.

She had no idea. Why was he asking her?

"Oh. Well, okay. Sorry to bother you."

He sunk back in his chair. Was he really going to have to walk all the way down to the comic shop by himself?

Enter Piro, the pirate.

"Why don’t you just download it?" he said.

"Downwhat?" Thomas asked, forever perplexed.

Piro couldn’t answer because he wasn’t really there. In fact he’d been dead for years. But his comment had set Thomas on a path that would culminate in a relapse into once again spending a significant amount of time reading super-hero comic books.

What else were brothers for?

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ACTRON: THE END #19 (2019/03/13)

ACTRON: THE END

#19

by Stanley Lieber

He was being tailgated.

Out here, on this route, that was rare. But the sensors didn’t (so far as he knew) lie. Another craft had come up just behind him, external effects flaring, suspiciously close.

It was hailing him.

He made the effort to respond.

"TAB2, responding to suspicious tailgater," he sighed into his sleeve mic.

"Tom. Glad I caught you out here," said an unfamiliar voice. "I wanted to be the first to tell you the news."

Grant Morrison was taking over as writer on NEW X-MEN. Tom ran a quick search through his long term file storage. No, this was unprecedented.

He had to figured out how to turn his shuttle around.

He wondered if he still owed money to the comic shop.

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XVA #1 (2019/03/12)

XVA

#1

by Stanley Lieber

MADRIPOOR

Pen scratches paper. Logan could ink for days, maybe weeks at a time. No breaks. What did he care? It was work.

this was nothing like his life back at the X-Mansion. In fact, he’d found that he couldn’t work there at all. Too many distractions. The kids could not be persuaded that he needed silence in order to concentrate. Some of his peers (if you could call them peers, since his enhanced senses and healing factor afforded him an otherwise unobtainable advantage over the competition) some of his peers actually listened to music, or watched TV while they worked. Podcasts, heh. Not this illustrator, bub. He’d black out the whole entertainment industry if it were feasible. As it was, he simply drew his blinds and drew his pages, his workspace illuminated solely by the soft light of an unshaded desk lamp.

Deadlines were an issue. No pun intended. He found that he could comfortably skip meals for upwards of a week before the hunger began to intrude upon his concentration. Much beyond that and he’d need some kind of snack. mostly, he nibbled stale cheese at his drawing board and got on with it.

Beer was another story. And his mini-fridge was empty.

Logan stood up and his stool fell over. Symbolic. He locked up his room and lit a cheap cigar on his way down the stairs to the street. Off to the liquor store for brews.

NEW YORK

Piro slapped the dip pen out of Tom’s hand.

"No. Again. What is the first thing we do when we are handed a pen?"

"Uh..." Tom floundered. "Write my name on my paper?"

"Wrong. Check to see if it’s loaded. Never take another artist’s word for it. We always check."

Tom stooped to retrieve his pen. Removed the nib and checked the barrel. Nothing. He slid his thumb over the sensor and logged in.

"Okay. Now it’s live."

"Good. You may begin."

Tom wrote his name on his paper.

THE OUTBACK

Ororo had no way of knowing what they were saying on the Internet. To be honest, she’d never even owned a phone (and in any case, there would be no signal, out here). Her idea of keeping up with events was watering her plants.

This made it especially awkward when it came time for her to manage the school’s social media presence. She had to admit she was completely lost. Which was hard for her. Even Kitty was getting too old for this shit. Logan had hit upon a scheme where the exercise might be turned into an opportunity for youngsters to earn class credit by helping senior ("Heh," he had said) staff foster the impression that the school remained engaged with contemporary human culture. And then there was the communications delay. The town’s connection was still only good for part of the day.

Ororo had chosen to post reviews of comic books.

Her decision had been implemented too quickly for Kitty to intervene. She learned of Ororo’s views at the same time as the rest of the world.

You couldn’t take it back.

NEW YORK

"We’re not just shitting these out for our health," Tom said, closing the tab. He’d been passed a link to some bullshit blogger slamming his latest work. "We spend too much time on these things to tolerate this kind of half-engaged criticism by posers who probably don’t even read the books."

"Relax, Tom," Piro said, delivering Tom’s coffee to his desk.

"I’ll fucking relax when I feel like relaxing, and I’ll tell you what," Tom said, not completing his thought.

Piro nodded, a rare concession.

He had no idea.

WESTCHESTER COUNTY

There had been so many members of the team over the years that nobody was really quite sure who was in and who was out. Permanently? Well, who could say? The Professor hadn’t left instructions before he fucked off to outer space.

Kitty maintained the rolls as best she could, clicking and backspacing over obsolete entries. She spent a fair amount of her time contacting semi-inactive X-Men and confirming their non-interest, current whereabouts, recent noms de plume, and present pronouns. Other facts and figures she considered extraneous. What with the secondary mutations, alternate art teams, and corporate interference with editorial, it was never a solid bet anyone would remain the way you remembered them for long. It was always best to check. Trust, but verify, as Logan might have quipped back in the ’80s.

It was almost a security strategy.

NEW YORK

Plinth Mold had warned that recent earnings reports had proven disappointing. No one in the office predicted that the remedy would be so quick to arrive. Nor so severe. MASSIVE FICTIONS was getting out of the comic book business. What would they do next?

Wait for it.

Piro informed the group that their new business model involved the distribution of plastic trinkets fashioned after the "poop" emoji.

Tom was loving it.

"I’m loving it," he said.

Reader, it wasn’t quite the beginning of the end, but if you’ve read my other books then you’ll have begun to suspect that the end was well on its way.

The team brought their usual measure of professionalism to the endeavor. Within weeks, MOLD INDUSTRIES, INC., controlled a majority share of the plastic poop emoji market.

With this the boss was well pleased.

MADRIPOOR

Back at his drawing board, Logan couldn’t shake the image of what he’d just seen, down at the liquor store. A child’s toy that looked just like a (cartoon) piece of poop.

He sniffed the night air as it drifted in through his open window.

All he could smell was plastic.

cover colored by pete toms

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ACTRON: THE END #18 (2019/03/11)

ACTRON: THE END

#18

by Stanley Lieber

"Is there any part of you that isn’t just a reaction to some perceived slight?" K.A.R.L. spun back to life without warning.

"No," Thomas said, and switched him back off again.

He was right, though. Thomas couldn’t really read the biography of his father. He’d invented the detail about them spelling his family name wrong. He had no way of knowing, in fact, that he had even picked up the right book. His visor was still down.

So, reading was no good. He was jittery. What did he expect to happen next?

The cabin was so damn hot he was leaving an outline on the pilot’s seat.

He gave up. He settled back into his chair and began, once again, to count.

It would be years before he ran out of numbers.

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ACTRON: THE END #17 (2019/03/07)

ACTRON: THE END

#17

by Stanley Lieber

He couldn’t read it.

There’s space and then there’s space. The space between Earth and Mars is not especially desolate. Especially since the late ’80s. Thomas didn’t normally get angry in traffic, but this was getting ridiculous.

No way to change course, or otherwise abort the journey.

He decided to read a book.

Let’s see...

From the pile he pulled a biographical treatment of his father, prepared by an Agency historian. He’d asked for it at the last minute before setting off on his trip. Now he figured he’d have time to read the whole thing.

First of all, they had spelled his family name wrong.

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ACTRON: THE END #16 (2019/03/05)

ACTRON: THE END

#16

by Stanley Lieber

It was nothing.

The incrementing had stopped. Thomas didn’t remember deciding to stop counting, but there were no more numbers piling up in his mind. The ticker tape had been cut off and tossed on the floor.

He decided to turn on the humidifier.

After a few minutes he realized that he had not been thinking. What had he been doing? What had he not been thinking about?

Humidity in the shuttle’s cabin was approaching a level he could live with. He flipped the locks on his cell and climbed once again into the pilot’s seat.

Someone had left him a note.

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ACTRON: THE END #15 (2019/02/25)

ACTRON: THE END

#15

by Stanley Lieber

K.A.R.L. had broken down.

Reader, he was out of warranty. There was nothing Thomas could do but complain.

Which he proceeded to do.

"What a piece of junk."

He kicked the defective equipment. K.A.R.L. just sat there and took it. Thomas considered it endemic to his kind. Accept any amount of abuse from a recognized authority figure. He couldn’t relate.

Pause for firmware update.

The shuttle resumed its journey.

Thomas counted to one hundred, two hundred, three hundred, and beyond. When he finally finished he had lost his place.

So, he started over.

One thought continued to surface: who was the voice counting in his head?

image by nicepimmelkarl, used without permission

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ACTRON: THE END #14 (2019/02/21)

ACTRON: THE END

#14

by Stanley Lieber

K.A.R.L. had gone into sleep mode. At last, the cabin was quiet. Thomas climbed back into his isolation cell and engaged the locks. With both observation windows open, he could reach through and touch both sides of the cabin. The cell fit him like a straitjacket. The scope of his imprisonment was limited only by the size of his craft.

He sighed.

Back and forth. how many times had he made this trip?

He whistled to himself.

Presently, K.A.R.L. resumed.

"I hate Indiana," he said.

Thomas ignored the non sequitur. Indiana, its existence, whether or not it sucked, had never significantly registered in his awareness. If not for Woody on CHEERS, he wouldn’t even remember having heard of it.

"So what," Thomas said. "Pass the chips."

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ACTRON: THE END #13 (2019/02/16)

ACTRON: THE END

#13

by Stanley Lieber

The route between Earth and Mars was the same one Tom had traveled a million times during his childhood. He reviewed the highlights with K.A.R.L.

"Sometimes I just count," Thomas said. "It’s a pretty long trip, so sometimes I get up to a pretty high number."

K.A.R.L. couldn’t see the appeal.

"I guess I just don’t have the imagination," he said.

"Hm," Thomas allowed. "Anyway, during the war, Dad wouldn’t let me talk during the flight, so I had to come up with my own entertainment. Counting was novel."

Tom wasn’t sure if K.A.R.L. was asleep or awake. He nudged the entity, who, presently, started to life.

"Uh huh, yes, do go on."

"You could say I taught myself."

"Uh huh, uh huh," K.A.R.L. said.

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ACTRON: THE END #12 (2019/02/15)

ACTRON: THE END

#12

by Stanley Lieber

Thomas hummed along with the slow whine and drummed his gloved fingers absentmindedly on the console. He accompanied the irregular rhythm for some time before he became consciously aware of the low sound in the cabin. it seemed he had a visitor.

Yooouuu refuse to talk, but you think like mad

K.A.R.L. slowly whirred to life, seemingly annoyed at the effrontery of mere existence. He killed the canned soundtrack.

"What are you doing to yourself?" he finally said.

Thomas hadn’t known a K.A.R.L. was installed. Just what he needed: simulated companionship. A perfunctory dose of what ailed him. Well, this could be just what the doctor ordered. A little bump, if you will.

"The coke’s all turned black," K.A.R.L. complained. "No criticism of you, of course, but I can’t work this way. What am I supposed to do?"

So, no.

"I don’t care what you do, but you’re going to do it off this ship," Thomas snapped. He reached for the assisted egress, but mistakenly pushed the wrong button, and the cabin was once again flattened by K.A.R.L.’s animatronic soundtrack.

And even your eyes are new

Thomas’ visor steamed over. Fingers in his ears, he couldn’t push any more buttons.

K.A.R.L.’s assembly clicked, popped, and whirred as he worked through his program. Thomas regarded the choreography as corny. Routine finally completed, K.A.R.L. returned to his original complaint.

"Just can’t score any relief," he said.

Tom was sympathetic, if ultimately unable to help.

"We’ve all had it hard."

Both entities reclined and contemplated the silence of space.

photo by momus

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