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Story: The Protector Pops


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Grandville: Lord Recluse's Throne Room


Stefan Richter was trying to busy himself with determining the logistics of some of his latest schemes.  Recruiting was down and several regiments' worth of soldiers were "arrested" by Longbow forces in recent engagements in the Bloody Bay, Siren's Call and various locations between Paragon City and the Rogue Isles.  While that would normally still leave him with plenty of troops to shuffle around, the bulk of the rest were tied up in the projects and schemes of his lieutenants.


He spared a moment to regard them.  Lately, he'd been keeping them in his throne room more often and having them coordinate through their minions.  Scirocco's recent foray into "heroism" during the Dark Astoria Crisis and Ghost Widow's obvious affection for him made him understand he needed to keep a closer eye on his lieutenants.  Black Scorpion could always be counted on to loudly blather how he was going to do something that would jeopardize Arachnos's plans.  He was loyal, but he was stupid and greedy, and that could always be counted on to make problems.  However, he was also a brutal taskmaster, and sometimes that was just what Recluse needed to get the troops, sorcerers and scientists in line.


A smacking sound in the final corner caught his attention.  This was what had been annoying him the past few days and making work difficult.  He focused his baleful red eyes on Captain Mako.  The sharkman was the one lieutenant Recluse never really had any problems with.  If Mako wanted to make a play to conquer Arachnos for himself, he'd fight Lord Recluse, they'd beat the crap out of each other, Recluse would batter him against a wall and that would be the end of it.  They'd already done that dance four or five times. 


In recent years, though, Mako seemed more content with his strange "memetic" status as the most eligible bachelor of the Rogue Isles.  Stefan could only surmise it had something to do with the influx of more "beastlike" mercenaries and criminals that were populating the Isles.  They were able to see past the toothy maw to the kind soul within.


Richter couldn't help but chuckle at the thought.  Mako with a kind soul?  Some things were just too absurd to not be funny.


However, there was another recent change, and this was slowly sanding away the Arachnos leader's patience.  He watched Mako for a few seconds, trying to figure out what it was that the creature was eating these past few days.  He pulled them out of a metal box at his feet every hour or so and nonchalantly popped them into his mouth to chew on for a few minutes while he analyzed reports from his various cells.


Then he saw it, a little blue...  Arm?


"Mako?" he called out, "What is that you're eating?"


"Hm?" Mako hummed as he looked back up to his overlord, "Nothing.  Just a new snack food."


"Is that...  A tiny man?" Stefan asked.


"What?" the shark man's mouth moved awkwardly to keep the morsel in while he chewed on it and tried to talk at the same time, "No!"


"Wait-a-minute..." Black Scorpion grumbled, though he was eager for the distraction, and he peered at the shark man across the throne room, his cybernetic eye whirring as he zoomed in, "Is that a little arm!?"


"Yes it is!" Recluse shouted, partly disgusted, but also somewhat amused, "We can see it, clear as day!  That thing is struggling for its life!"


"Help meeeeee!" they heard a tiny voice shout, "Help meeeeeee!"


Mako sucked in sharply, pulling the tiny limb into his mouth and he proceeded to chew more intensely, leading to unsettling crunching sounds.  Scirocco and Ghost Widow looked on in bafflement.


"There wasn't...  There wasn't a soul in that..." Ghost Widow explained, her confusion growing.


"Okay, let me..." Mako paused to chew again, "Let me expla-OH!"


His mouth was starting to glow with a pale green light.


"Oh, it popped MOG!  Aw, I love it when they do this!  I can really grind my teeth now!"


Lord Recluse and his remaining lieutenants stared in stunned silence as Mako happily chewed on his apparently still-living snack.  There had to be a story here.




Two Months Earlier...


"...Don't think of them as children...  In fact, they weren't really people..." Doc Buzzsaw's voice came over the radio.


"Really?" the creature known as the Shadow Bone Shark asked, "So...  Does that mean nobody's going to miss them?"


Her sister, the Electric Bone Shark, gnawed absentmindedly on one of the legs of one of the small, underdeveloped Paragon Protectors.  She'd taken to calling them "Hero Veal."  Their friends, Black Dogg and Gator Man were also chewing on their own collection of assorted parts, all from the Crey's Paragon Protector batch that had been sent against them to stop their heist for special fluids.


"Well, Crey might get a little miffed about some of their property being stolen, but when has that ever stopped people like us?" Buzzsaw cheerily replied.


"So it's okay if we eat them?" Shadow Bone Shark asked her more pertinent question.


"Yeah, it's okay if you-!" Doc Buzzsaw stopped in mid-sentence, her voice catching in her throat with unfamiliar shock; once she recovered, she sounded positively ecstatic, "You know what, you guys?  I'm gonna get somebody else to help with the rest of this advanced Vahzilok stuff...  You, however, I've got a new plan for you!"


"Does it involve more tiny Paragon Protectors?" Electric Bone Shark asked, "Because those are tasty!"


"Yes!" Doc Buzzsaw replied, maniacal glee entering her voice, "And no!  I'm gonna need you to hit another Crey cloning lab...  But keep it intact this time!"




Present Day...


Buzzsaw was busying herself with her new "The Doctor is IN!" stand, inspired by old comics that were still quite popular.  She thought the cheeky humor was just what she needed to draw in more customers for her latest ventures.  Below the malformed lemonade stand was a trapdoor to her laboratory, buried under nearly fifty feet of Rogue Isles detritus and shanty town rubble.  When her Freakshow friends were helping her dig it out, they even found more of that weird red coral, which they promptly sold because she didn't want to deal with that stuff ever again.  The extra funds helped her fashion and furnish a proper laboratory for her work.  No more random dingy warehouses for her, no sir!  Now it was just her own dingy laboratory.


"Hey, Buzz," a clawed Freak holding a cardboard box announced as he arrived, "Got you some of those lights you were asking for.  Our tinkers were really weirded out by the request, though.  You really want these things to flicker?"


"It's just not a mad science lab without flickering lights, Spark Jock!" she replied as she happily took the box and then placed a box of hands, actuators, hydraulics and other spare parts on the counter for him to pick up, "I'll be wiring the monetary payment to Rippershock later today!"


"Cool, cool," the cyborg took the box of parts and walked away.  Buzzsaw busied herself with adjusting the "IN!" sign to try to find the right angle between whimsy and derangement.  If she put it at a ninety degree tilt, that would just be lazy.  Mulling over this was why she didn't notice Spark Jock's grunt and the clatter of metal falling against one of the shanty houses.  A few seconds later, though, and she did start to notice dark shapes flitting about.  She sighed, but kept adjusting the sign, trying to get it juuuuuuuuust right.


She could hear the heavy footsteps behind her.  It was probably one of her Arachnos clients, using Bane Spider Commandos to spook her and try to weasel out of paying her.  Well, she would show them!  She would show them all!  It was weird to have the phrase actually be for a tangible issue...


She whirled around, syringer gun in her hand, and let out a vicious "HEYAAAAAAAAAAH!"  At least, that's what she intended.  She got the whirling right, as well as smoothly drawing her syringer gun.  However, her battlecry caught in her throat halfway through when she saw Lord Recluse standing in front of her, resulting in a painful gag.


"Take a moment to compose yourself, Doctor," Recluse's inhuman, gutteral voice sounded almost amused, "Somebody bring me a seat."


A pair of commandos arrived with a large chair, one specifically designed to accommodate the spider legs that protruded from Stefan's back, and the large man sat down.  Another Bane Spider presented him with a mug and poured him some coffee from an insulated flask.  Eventually, Doc Buzzsaw regained her composure and settled against her stand.


"I see you're upgrading," Recluse noted the seemingly ramshackle structure, but he already knew about the laboratory facilities buried below.


"Ah, yes," Buzzsaw tried to sound cordial despite the terror gripping her heart, "I have been involved in quite a few projects that have produced a windfall as of late."


"I heard about the new Freakshow monstrosities," the big tarantula man said, then motioned for one of his commandos, "However, that's not what I'm here about."


The commando presented a thin-walled cardboard box and opened it.  Lord Recluse reached in himself and when his hand reemerged, it had a wriggling humanoid figure trapped between his fingertips.  It was a familiar appearance in its blue and yellow outfit and matching motorcycle helmet.  However, Paragon Protectors weren't supposed to be six inches tall.  Crey did have action figures they sold, but they weren't made of meat, nor could they move on their own.


"Captain Mako's been snacking on these for the past week."


"I-hi-hi can explain," Doc Buzzsaw giggled nervously, "Aaaaaah...  Let's see...  So, one of my merc crews did a mission against Crey, and when they were done, they, ah..."


"Ate clones," Recluse rolled his hand at the wrist to show he was keeping up with the story and wanted Buzzsaw to move it along.  The tiny body in his hand flailed comically as it was swung about.


"Yes, well, the conversation I had with them inspired me!" getting more into talking the shop of things, Buzzsaw started finding her voice again, "See, Aeon has that NutriPaste stuff!  I wanted to contribute to an untapped, but growing market here in the Isles!  The market of the more monstrous mercenaries and rogues that have come to call these wonderfully chaotic islands home!  So, I hired a few more crews and got to work gathering resources, material and locations to make my new vision a reality!"


"You're feeding monster people tiny clones?" one of the commandos asked, his voice tinged with disgust.  Recluse gave him a sideways glare and he offered a sheepish apology and a fist over his heart in salute.


"I wish I was feeding them tiny clones!" the mad scientist practically laughed, "They'd pay top dollar for rare cuisine like that!  No, I realized early on that Crey's Revenant Heroes are prohibitively expensive to grow.  They're near-perfect human clones, with super powers shunted in.  I wouldn't be able to keep making new cell cultures to keep up with the demand, but..."


"But the first batch was clones, and you sold them to Captain Mako."


"They were deeeee-licious!" Buzzsaw laughed, pointing across herself for good measure.  One of the commandos groaned.


"I can't be having you selling tiny Paragon Protector clones as food in the Isles," Recluse sighed in exasperation, "That might be just enough to make Crey himself wake up and go to war against us."


He turned to the nearby Bane Spider Scout.


"Write that down.  Find out what's going on with Count Crey.  I don't need that crazy vampire sneaking up on me."


"Sir, yes, sir," the scout replied and started scribbling into a data pad.


"Well, you can rest easy about the clones.  Like I said, making that batch taught me how expensive that would be, and I just can't afford the overhead.  The first batch itself tore free from the tanks, and I had to call in a crew to mop up THAT mess.  Fortunately, they were happy to be paid in, ah, free samples.  Mako somehow found out (I think he was sleeping with one of the Bone Sharks) and he's become an invaluable investor, even providing a garrison for the fabrication lab!"


"You mean to tell me you have a cloning lab here in Sharkhead?"


Recluse looked to the numerous dingy buildings scattered about the island.  He was familiar with Cage Consortium's industrial processing plant, but the rest of the buildings changed hands so quickly he couldn't be sure who had what in any of them.


"Well, yes and no...  See, there was a cloning lab that the Fifth Column had running, but then some super villain got control of it, but then it exploded.  It was a whole ordeal.  But!  That was prime real estate!  I had Shadow Bone Shark and her friends clear the place out and we moved some new equipment in!  It's a smaller affair than the last one, and our scope is limited to delectable snack treats, but it works!"


Stefan blinked a few times at this.  He didn't know there had already been a cloning laboratory on Sharkhead Isle.  He would need to have a word with Arbiter Daos and be brought back up to speed on things.


"So...  What are they made of?" he asked, almost worried about what the answer could be, "You said they're not clones, and Ghost Widow said she didn't detect a soul in any of Mako's treats."


Buzzsaw practically clapped with delight at the chance to explain her patent-pending method of creating what were essentially little more than moving meat sticks.  She started with a lab-grown beef culture and worked to develop a cartilage skeleton to grow it around.  The skeleton was almost human-exact, as she was able to use 3-D printers to get the shape she was looking for.  Then it was a matter of properly molding and sculpting the beef around the skeleton and applying the vegetable matter to function as the uniform.


"I got some help from Von Grun in altering some kelp for the project.  At first, he thought it was a plan for taking over the world, got disappointed when it was 'just food,' but then started laughing his ass off when I showed him the finished product.  Then we started brainstorming other applications!"


"So, these things are basically just...  Mobile beef?" Recluse looked at the little figure in his hand.


"Help meeeeeeee!" it screamed.


"So how do they talk?"


"Oh that..." Buzzsaw shrugged, "That's actually the boring part.  For 'brains...'" -she was sure to use airquotes- "...the Protector Pops have a small nanotechnology matrix in their heads and chests.  It's a rudimentary nervous system, at best, and breaks down in about a month.  I've got a couple stale, uneaten pops around here somewhere...  They're basically jerky.  They make that horrible 'eeeeeh' noise toys do when their batteries run low."


"Dear god..." a commando groaned and stepped away, "I can't...  I just can't!"


Another commando led him away, patting him reassuringly on the shoulder.  Stefan was starting to wish he could join them.  This whole situation was both more and less horrifying than he'd feared.  It was definitely weirder than he was expecting, too.  He would need to remember that for anything regarding Buzzsaw.  Vernon Von Grun, too.


"Anyway, the nanotech cultures can't be programmed for much more than a few phrases," Buzzsaw continued, "Screaming for help is a popular one.  A few customers also ask for the standard cliches, like 'Halt, evildoer!' and 'Your evil ends now!'  Ooh!  That reminds me!  I've actually got a sample!  Wait right here!"


Forgetting that she was being interrogated, Doc Buzzsaw rushed behind her stand, threw open her trapdoor and scurried into the depths below.  Recluse, surprised at her sudden audacity, couldn't even comment.  He turned to his commandos with a shrug.


"I'm scared, sir," the nearest one admitted, "This woman's gone into places even Grillo refuses to tread."


"We're all scared, soldier," Recluse sighed and settled into the chair some more, "But it's not going to hurt us, even if it doesn't do us any good.  Compose yourself."


Ten minutes later, they could hear Buzzsaw clanking back up the rungs of her ladder, cursing to herself every so often and promising to install an elevator.  Recluse was certain she was about to talk herself into building a man-sized dumb waiter by the time she returned to the surface.


"Here we go!" she gasped, holding up a cylinder, then getting a little light headed and closing the trap door, "Oof!  I do NOT want to fall down there!"


"It's not recommended," Recluse chuckled, "So, what's in the container?"


Doc Buzzsaw took a few more breaths and stretched her arms.  She pondered the mechanical arms extending from her backpack for a moment, wondering why she didn't have attachments to help her with climbing.  After a moment, she set the container on the counter and smiled.


"I gotta credit Grun with the idea.  If we're able to make kelp-wrapped beef-and-cartilage Protector Pops, then why couldn't we make OTHER mini edible action figures?"


"Aw, she said it!" the scout groaned, "She actually said it!"




Buzzsaw slid the outer lid off the cylindrical container, revealing a second transparent cylinder.  Inside was a tiny feminine figure with blonde hair.  It was clad in a blue and red skirt with white boots and gloves with golden shoulder pads and a little brown scabbard hanging off its gold belt.  Stefan let out a low groan as he recognized the form of Ms. Liberty.


"See, the little sword is like a toothpick!" Buzzsaw giggled as she held it up for them to see.


"Halt, evildoer!" it squeaked at them.  It was a bit unsettling to see the little figure's mouth move.





A Few Hours Later...


Recluse returned to his throne room.  His entourage had been sent to a therapy session and now he had his Bravo Team escorting him.  He had them get to their positions as he walked over to Mako and held up the container holding the Mini Ms. Liberty.


"Captain Mako."


The shark man saw the tiny figurine and licked his lips.


"Captain Mako.  Look at me, not the morsel."


"Yes sir?" Mako turned his nose up to Lord Recluse, but the overlord could see him stealing glances back to the tiny facsimile of Stefan's niece.


"I understand you're the one responsible for the bulk of the funding for this project."


"Yessssss?" the shark man was confused where the conversation was going, but eventually settled on being definitive, "Yes.  I'm largely responsible for the funding of Doc Buzzsaw's Protector Pops.  Ooh!  Also!  Doc Aeon's Tuna-Yogurt NutriPaste!  I thought about just stealing the stuff, but then it dawned on me, he'd make MORE if he made more money off of it!  And that stuff's amazing!  Sometimes, I like to dip my Protector Pops in-!"


"Ugh," Scirocco groaned, "There went my appetite for the next few days."


"You and me both, Sandy," Black Scorpion groaned, his skin looking particularly green.


"Enough!" Recluse announced, then shook the Tiny Ms. Liberty at Mako, "I am never to see you eating one of these in my presence.  Understood?"


"Yes and no," Mako replied, "Yes, in that I will not eat any of Buzzsaw's new tailor-made mini-heroes in front of you.  No, in that I don't know why."


"I have my reasons," Recluse glared at the miniature Ms. Liberty, who was shouting her bland catchphrase at him.  He was dreading the video call he would have to make to his niece about this.

Edited by rolandgrey
Minor grammar fix.
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You can be a good man, the best man in the world...  But there will always be somebody who hates a good man.

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