Alto Clef Jr.: Day of the Doorcrasher
rating: +24+x


"These displays look fan-tastic, Dave."

"Uh, it's Mark, actually."

"Oh, of course," the customer said, his gaze still fixed on the wall of brightly-colored screens. Cartoons danced on the reflective surface of his wraparound sunglasses. "You're a natural mark. Man with an optimal eye for detail, am I right?"

"Absolutely, sir. That's why I've got one of these at home, myself. Fifty-inch 4K smart TV. Dynamic range is absolutely stun-"

"So why can't you see what this hall of high-def splendor is missing, Jimbo? This gallery here, this is like the steak without the sauce. It's the razzle with no dazzle. Feel me?"

The clerk fidgeted with his nametag. "I'm… not sure? Can I help you find something?"

"No, my man," the heavyset man replied, uncrossing his arms and turning to face Mark for the first time. Despite his grin, the guy looked uncomfortable — his forehead was damp, and his blue dress shirt was dark with sweat. "I've already found what I'm looking for. It's a real-deal action powerhouse, star of tomorrow's feature presentation… today. But don't take my word for it! Engorge your membranes on this atrocity, broheim."

Whereupon the customer crouched, launched himself into a series of backwards handsprings, twisted in midair and spin-kicked some poor unsuspecting soul at the end of the aisle, knocking their head off in a shower of blood.

By the time the screaming started, off on the opposite end of the mall, he had just barely finished disabling the air bags. Damn. The assassin discarded the screwdriver and socket wrench, then retrieved the shotgun from the backseat of the SUV and tossed the sling over his shoulder. Ready up, time to go. He slid a cloned key into the ignition, put one feathered hand on the shifter, and —

"Freeze, mister!"

Seriously? He glanced out the window at the pallid, shaking rent-a-cop, who had materialized with peashooter in hand at precisely the wrong time. "Look, man," he said, "just stay out of my way. I'm working."

"What the hell are you? What's going on? Are you stealing this car?!"


"I… but… how…?" The pistol wavered. "Birds can't drive!"

He flipped off the guard with one wing and stomped on the gas.

"Oh Jesus, oh fuck-"

Mark sprinted towards the checkout as fast as his legs would carry him, shrill shrieks and meaty splatters echoing in his ears. He took a sharp turn around a rack of Blu-Rays, wiped out, and recovered gracelessly, stumbling to his feet just in time to see the killer take a flying leap off one of the shelves and elbow-drop the cashier. Crunch.

"That's right, folks!" the guy shouted. He flipped over backwards, kicking the sales counter in half, then moonwalked through the resulting gap and pointed directly at Mark. "With nine easy payments of $999.99, your studio can cut out the mediocre middlemen! Say goodbye to stunt choreographers, liability waivers or expensive post-production! We're talking one hundred percent practical effects! Real terror, gen-u-ine guts and most visceral gristle!"

He reached back, then lashed out with one bloody hand, flinging gobs of wet flesh into Mark's face from five meters away. The clerk screeched, cringed, and started searching through his pockets for some kind of weapon. All he found was his cell phone. Panicked, Mark flung it at the heavyset man, who snagged it out of the air, turned on the selfie cam, and swivelled around so they were both in the frame.

"W-why are you doing this?"

"This is what I was made for, Billy Bob! Thanks to those juicy oysters at Optimark Synthetic Personnel Solutions1, I'm the American id made manifest. I'm a lean, mean, Nielsen machine, the sickest slice you've ever seen!" He lobbed the phone into the air, put both hands on his hips, threw his head back and swallowed the falling device. Then he laughed heartily. "Disgust and arouse your audiences today… with Murderer™!"

At which point an SUV smashed through the storefront.

There are certain guidelines for engaging humanoid threat entities. Speed, surprise, violence of action — these tactics are reliable against baseline goons, Blues, Greens, and even certain cyborgs2, because they're subject to human foibles and frailties. They get overconfident. They let their guard down. Then you blow them up or shoot them in the head. Simple.

Dealing with full-on robots and androids can be more complicated. They emulate human eccentricities, and some of their programming is predictable, but they're not subject to the same physical limitations. They can be built with stronger frames, tougher muscles or faster reflexes. Maybe their CPU isn't in their cranium at all! GOC operatives like Agent Pocket Ukelele3 have to be prepared for such eventualities. If you're deployed to deal with a threat like KTE-6684-Velveteen-Typhon, right when it's escalating from "pop-up murder" to "marketing massacre", you need more than good timing; you need to hit them with overwhelming force.

Which brings us back to this two-ton, four-wheel-drive SUV, brought into the mall many months ago to serve as grand prize in a giveaway contest.

The stolen vehicle barreled down the aisle, struck Murderer™ head-on, and — bump-bump — dragged it under the wheels. The assassin slammed on the brakes — rrrk-crunch-bump — and came to a gradual halt with the mangled body pinned beneath the rear axle. Then he popped the driver's door, stepped out, and swept the shotgun around in one smooth motion. Buck scanned past a store employee — "Mark", who had blood all over his face — then pivoted round to draw a bead on the machine, which was struggling to shift the wheel crushing its torso. The fake skin of its nose and forehead had been scraped off in the collision, yet somehow, Murderer™'s mirrored shades were pristine.

"Bodacious entrance, dude," it declared, voice straining with synthesized effort. "But ultra rude to interrupt my sales pi-"

Buck blasted it in the face. He pumped the shotgun, circled a few steps to the right, blew off the robot's arm at the shoulder, and put two more magnum slugs into center mass for good measure. Then he turned to the civilian and pointed at the shattered remains of the door. "Get out of here."

"Holy shit," Mark blurted. "Thanks, talking duck."

"Point of order: I am a goose." The assassin plucked an incendiary grenade from his vest. "Now move away from the vehicle before-"

"Freeze, you maniac!"

Son of a bitch. The rent-a-cop had followed Buck from the display area, and he was still honed on the wrong threat. The assassin glanced at the dismembered Murderer™. Pretty sure it's toast, but I need to fry it anyway. He looked back at the guard, who he'd been generous enough to warn, then considered the .357 holstered on his belt. Could solve this problem so easily. Buck's wing twitched.

"I said don't move!" Guy looked like he was about to shit his pants, if he hadn't already.

"Wait!" Mark protested, raising his palms to the sky. "Don't — don't hurt him! This goose saved my life! I don't know what's going on, but… he's here to help!"

The guard shifted his aim from bird-man to Mark and back again. He was confused, frightened, and way out of his depth, but it looked like he might calm down — up until a second robot entered the store in three quick jumps. This Murderer™ looked exactly like the first, except it was wearing an orange shirt instead of blue, and had aviators instead of wraparounds. It grabbed the rent-a-cop by the shoulders, kneed him in the spine and flattened him like a folding chair. Fortunately, Buck had the presence of mind to dodge left, so when Murderer™ lifted the guard's twisted body and lobbed it at the gibbering, cowering civilian, the goose wasn't caught up in the resulting haze of pink shrapnel. Damn shame about Mark, though. I was just starting to like him.

"For a limited time only, Optimark Synthetic Personnel Solutions4 is proud to present: Double Murderer™! Order in the next ninety seconds, and we'll throw in a second unit for half the price!"

Well, this was unexpected. PHYSICS Assessment Teams hadn't anticipated a second threat in the area. Time to improvise. "Wow!" Buck exclaimed. "Half the price, you say?"

"Yeah, bro! But only if you affix your appendages and dial O for Optimark in the next ninety seconds!"

"What a deal! Here, hold this, I'll get my phone." Buck pulled the pin on the incendiary grenade and underhanded it at the machine. When Murderer™ plucked the bomb out of the air and moved to crush it between both hands, the goose raised his shotgun, drew a bead on that narrow red cylinder, and —


— nothing left but a hybrid poly-steel spinal column, a pair of teetering legs, and a circle of flames.

Contract signed, sealed, and delivered… at 50% off.

This clash between DolphinSlugchuggerDolphinSlugchugger's Alto Clef Jr. and CadaverCommanderCadaverCommander's Murderer™ has been brought to you by March 2020's Underread & Underrated prompt, in partnership with Optimark Synthetic Personnel Solutions.5

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