ASH/HCC: Coherent Super Stories #23 - Device Not Found

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at
Sat Aug 28 20:13:53 PDT 2010

     [The cover is a closeup of a robotic wolf's head, and in the eyes can be
seen a Blue Screen of Death.]

 .|, COHERENT                                            An ASHistory Series
 '|` SUPER STORIES                        #23 - "Device Not Found"
        Featuring LU-62                 copyright 2010 by Dave Van Domelen

[July 6, 1998 - Fredericksburg, VA]

     "Can't this wait, even a minute?" Lupine Unit 62, informally known as
"Louie," asked, gesturing with one metallic paw at the frozen tableau.  A
trio of godpowered had just vanished, but apparently the darkness-worshippers
had known something was about to happen because they'd gone on a last big
spree to spread fear before their patron (or patroness) called in their
marker.  Louie had just been passing through, checking on reports that the
local levels of Godmarket activity were abnormally high, but once the rampage
started he'd done his best to save the bystanders.  He hadn't tried to fight
the godpowered, they were way out of his league.
     "Yyyeah, it kinda sucks, doesn't it?" Tymythy Twystyd nodded.  Time
hadn't actually stopped, it was just moving incredibly slowly, but even at
that pace Louie could see people starting to fade as they met the same fate
as the trio of darkness-casters.  Most of them weren't fading, but they still
weren't going to have a great day unless something could be done.  Several
vehicular accidents were about to happen, a wall was falling over near a
child whose parents were vanishing, and other dire situations were plainly
visible.  "I wish I could help you rearrange people or something to save them
all, but that's not how this spell works.  It's just you and me, and I have
thousands of others to get to if we're going to save what's left of the
     "So.  Is this a gathering of heroes or something?" Louie asked while
calculating the optimum path to save as many as possible once time started
again.  Assuming he got to stick around.  "I don't have a lot to offer these
days, the average power level left me behind even before the Godmarket."
     "More like an un-gathering, I'm afraid," Tymythy shrugged
apologetically.  "There's only way we can can think of to stop that," he
pointed at a vanishing woman, who wore an ankh around her neck, "and that's
to get all the Magenes out of the way.  Reality should scab over and block
the gods from eating the souls of everyone else on the planet.  You may be
artificial, but those 'probability capacitors' they installed in you back in
1990 tripped the spell's seeker enchantment.  You have to join us in...
whatever the afterlife has waiting for us."
     "No, I don't have to," Louie countered.  "All you need to get rid of are
my PCs.  Back when I was LU-60 I didn't have them, I can get along without
them if I have to."  That was perhaps an exaggeration.  The energies of the
extradimensional devices had been a part of his circuitry for nearly a
decade, almost his entire life.  He had some protocols in place to let him
operate while under an Anchor effect, but he'd never actually tried to LIVE...without the PCs.
     "You sure?" Tym asked.  "I mean...if this doesn't do the trick, I'll
have to come back for you, and I won't have enough time left to make it
gentle.  Your spirit will be shredded...and don't say you don't have one.
Even rocks have spirits, and you're a lot more complex than rocks."
     "I'll risk it.  For them," Louie tilted his head towards the girl under
the falling wall.  "I'm a hero, I've been one longer than you have.  My whole
existence, in fact.  If it costs me an afterlife to keep a few more people in
this life, so be it.  It's not like I was expecting anything in the
hereafter.  Ejecting capacitors."
     A trio of panels in Louie's side flipped open.  Given their nature as
technomagical devices invented by a mad god in another reality, he'd felt it
prudent to always have the option of getting rid of them if he had to.  In
fact, he could launch them at low supersonic speed in an emergency.  Such an
emergency was why he no longer had four capacitors, he'd had to launch one as
a weapon of last resort during the incident that forced his upgrade to model
     This time, though, the three PCs simply popped out halfway, like
videotapes.  "Here," Louie turned his flank to Tym, who took the rods and
made them vanish with a bit of sleight of hand.  
     "Good luck with all of that," Tym turned to go.  "I hope I don't have to
see you again...."
     A human would have been disoriented for a second or so when time started
up again, but while his physical reactions weren't too much better than a
human's, Louie's mind was still computer-fast.  His disorientation didn't
last long enough to matter.
     What did matter was that he felt sluggish.  Half his systems seemed to
have gone offline, as they depended in some way on how the PCs let him
violate physical law.  The original LU-60 design had been pretty brilliant,
but even then it was a "magic item" to some extent, his creator bending the
rules with his own Magene.  LU-61 had been redesigned to take advantage of
the PCs, and LU-62 was perhaps over-reliant on them.
     Louie reordered his priorities.  With his top speed slashed in half, he
couldn't save even the five people he'd thought he could.  Three at most, the
other two he'd have to hope would only be seriously injured.
     He started a dead run towards the falling wall, cycling through all of
his weapon systems.

     Device not found.

     System error.

     Undervolt warning.

     Paradox detected.

     You want WHAT?

     As weak as his weapons were, almost all of them depended on the
probability capacitors to give them a little more oomph.  So, instead of
having a two kilowatt laser like his LU-60 body had possessed and that might
still have been good enough today, he had a five kilowatt laser that wouldn't
turn on at all.  The guidance on his missiles didn't *seem* to require
paranormal effects, but something was preventing any lock-on...a bug he didn't
have time to trace down.  And so forth.
     Wireless still working!
     It wasn't much, but one of the now-unmanned cars barrelling towards a
pedestrian had a pretty advanced computer system running it, and Louie was
able to perform a very crude hack on it, tripping the antilock brakes.  He
hoped it was enough to let that man jump out of the way.  Or at least survive
the impact.
     "Damn it!" Louie cursed.  He couldn't reach the girl in time to slow
down and push her safely out of the way...he could only manage a full speed
ram, which would probably do more damage to her than the wall.  Even if his
weapon systems were all online, he didn't have anything that could pulverize
that much wall quickly enough.  And he simply wasn't *big* enough to shield
the girl with his body.  Or durable enough...the LU-62 upgrade had replaced
strong physical armor with field-reinforced plating that was no longer
     But he had committed.  There wasn't enough time to go back to any of the
other victims.  It was save the girl or save no one.
     There had to be something!  Some system powerful enough to do the job,
without needing to have the probability capacitors engaged!

     Of course there was.

     Louie pushed his speed to maximum, no longer worried about slowing down
in time to move the girl safely.  He could feel microfractures developing in
his legs and hips, and projected at least one leg would shatter completely in
about five more meters.
     Good thing he only had four meters to go.
     His left audio receptor sparked and shut down.  Maybe it was a delayed
effect of losing the PCs, maybe a surge from how badly he was pushing
himself.  Didn't matter.  He didn't need to hear, just see, and his visual
sensors were heavily protected.  They might even survive what he planned to
do.  Even if he didn't.
     He finished his calculations just as he shot past the girl.  A detached
part of his mind identified her as Janie Preston, age 9, regular follower of
several superhero fan sites and registered with the DSHA's Junior Hero
program, a sort of government-run fanclub.  It taught a lot of basic
"superhero fight safety" lessons, which unfortunately hadn't been quite
enough today.
     "I wonder what's waiting for me," Louie said aloud as he engaged the
probability capacitor ejectors at full power.  Of *course* they could work
properly without the PCs.  And with nothing in the chambers, and the safety
dampers switched off, the magnetic mass drivers would turn roughly seventy
percent of Louie's torso into a sort of claymore mine, spraying his body in a
cone away from Janie and into the falling wall, turning it to red brick
     And Louie's body into metallic gray dust.


               *              *              *              *

     It all happened so fast.  The darkness went away, but not the shouting
and screeching.  Janie looked around in confusion, then her face lit up as
she saw the robot wolf running towards her.  She didn't even notice the wall
falling towards her, or realize that her parents had just vanished.
     Then the wolf ran past her and there was the loudest sound Janie had
ever heard!  And she'd heard a lot of loud today.
     "Oh no!" she saw that the wolf had blown up like a bomb.  Then she saw
the wall that would have crushed her.  "Mom?  Dad?" she looked around in
panic, although it didn't look like any of the wall had fallen on them.
     Maybe someone had rescued them already.  A superfast superhero.  Janie
had never been around a superhero fight before, but she knew all about them.
The paramedics were definitely on their way, and then the nearest MuniCoE
representatives would arrive to help dig out anyone that was trapped.  All
the FAQs said you should clear out of the way if you could, and the superhero
escape plan she'd worked on for the Junior Hero program said everyone in her
family should meet back at home if the battle didn't take place in their
     She wasn't sure if it counted as irony, not that she was really sure
what irony was in general, but the meeting place for an attack in their
neighborhood was right about where she was standing at the moment.
     "Oh, wait...the head's still in one piece, mostly," Janie picked up the
faintly steaming robotic wolfhead with one missing ear.  "You still alive?"
she asked it, but there was no response.  "Maybe dad knows someone who can
fix you, let's go!"  she tucked the head under one arm and started


Author's Notes:

     ALSO written for High Concept Challenge #12, since there were no other
entries a day before the extended deadline, and I thought people should at
least get to pick between two stories, even if I was the only writer
involved.  Also, I had a spur of the moment idea that could serve a
worldbuilding purpose on its own, helping answer some questions raised by the
"Click!" one-shot.
     Strictly speaking, HCC 12 is supposed to involve a mundane illness of
some sort.  But for the past two weeks my main computer has been in line at
the repair shop because it couldn't locate any drives on startup.  So, a
"device not found" error is a very common and mundane illness for a
computerized lifeform.  :)
     By the way, pretty much any story set on July 6, 1998 is going to be a
bit of a downer, since it was kinda the apocalypse.  But this one is more of
a downer than most, given that Janie's just been orphaned and doesn't even
realize it yet.  I wonder what sort of effect that'll have on her development
and what sort of person she'll be in 2026?  Only time and future story ideas
will tell....


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