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"The Doctor Falls"
Space Century: 342.00
by J.M.

Among the various cities and towns on Palma, robotcop patrols were a common occurrence. One never knew when or how many would come, but when they did, citizens quickly returned to their homes, closing doors, pulling shades over windows. Remaining outside was to risk confrontation; confrontation surely meant death, or imprisonment. The automated machine 'cops were disturbing enough... but the living version was something to be feared. Whatever madness infected Lassic also spread to his henchmen, as they would arrest anyone they felt like at the time, with or without cause.

But a few towns, mysteriously, were infrequently visited by the tyrant's army. Eppi, Loar, Gothic... each had been spared the curse that other towns bore. A visit by the robotcops was quite a rare event; and malicious action by them even moreso.

That, of course, was one of the reasons that Doctor Luveno had moved to Gothic from Parolit, so many months ago. He enjoyed a relative degree of freedom in the small town, away from the prying eyes and powered blasters of the 'cops. Lassic had little tolerance for scientists and technicians in his kingdom; some said he was afraid of their abilities, others, that his allegiance to a dark magic evoked hatred of all things technological. Regardless, it was no longer safe for people to experiment with technology. Luveno had seen friends arrested in their labs; and he had never seen them again.

Even so, he took measures to hide his work. The lost spaceship that he had salvaged lay deep in the mountains west of Gothic, where no robotcops patrolled. His lab in Gothic itself was in the basement of his home, the entrance unnoticeable to casual searchers. Everyone in the town knew of his work, but discussion of it was kept to a minimum.

Through all this, Doctor Luveno, a bright-eyed man seventy-years young believed he was safe.

- - - - - - - - - -

"The fool in Abion makes little progress, Lusar..." the black tyrant bellowed on his throne. Before stood Lusar, his top advisor. The rest of the giant chamber was empty, as was often the case when the two met.

"Yes, m'lord. I have always believed that he is incompetent. But his work is crucial to our cause. The secrets of the Musk Cats and the Laer..."

"The secrets of the Musk Cats do not concern me... only the rejuvenating power of the nuts matters! The idiot spends too much time indulging his sadism... all the while failing at every turn!"

Lusar thought in silence for a moment. "Perhaps we should send him partner, to speed up the work?"

"You are ever wise, Lusar," said the king, "but the rabble that this planet has to offer is hardly qualified to assist him."

"There is one, m'lord, who might. You remember one Doctor Luveno ?"

"Luveno..." A dark frown formed over Lassic's face. His eyes closed as he spoke. "The man turned down my offer to go to work in the robotcop factories... I have not forgotten his arrogance. I sometimes wonder why I did not kill him on the spot..."

Lusar shifted his pose slightly. "Regardless of that, m'lord, he certainly has the ability. He is far more talented than the mad doctor."

"True enough. Where is he now?"

"In the town of Gothic, m'lord."

"Gothic... hardly a home for a technician such as himself... very well, send a messenger to *proposition* him. Offer him the finest equipment, a home, and some contraband. He must only work with Doctor Mad in exchange."

"And if he refuses, kill him, m'lord?" Lusar's tone was cold, callous. A death decree held no surprise to him.

"No, if he refuses, lock him in Gothic prison... let him stew on his feeble attempts at resisting me. A few months in a cell would certainly change his outlook, wouldn't' you say?"

"As you wish."

- - - - - - - - - -

He had noticed them some time ago. As Luveno walked down the lane towards his home, he saw his followers. A cadre of four robotcops, of the living variety, walked some yards behind him. Their pace matched his. As he reached his house, his cast one final glance at them, then went inside.

Seconds later the door was opened.

"Greetings, Doctor Luveno..." the first 'cop said devilishly.

Thoughts of dread flashed through Luveno's mind. How had they found him? He had been careful... what had he missed? "Greetings, sirs," he said, the contempt in his voice apparent.

"We come offering opportunity, doctor!"

"I'm not interested in anything *you* could offer." Speaking such words to a robotcop was insane, but Luveno knew it was over and refused to cower before them.

"Ah, but you have not even listened to what we have to say! We know of your love, your devotion, of science, doctor... that is why we are offering you a position that will allow you to continue that which you love! You will work freely, with unlimited resources! And your every need will be taken care of..." The 'cop leader awaited his response.

"I have made notice before, I will not serve Lassic... and will not live off the terror and oppression he creates!"

The 'cop raised his blaster and lowered his voice. "You have one final chance, doctor. Accede, or face the consequences..."

"Never!" the doctor shouted. "I would rather die!"

"Would that you could be so fortunate, doctor." A plasma blast shot from the 'cop's gun, and Luveno lost consciousness.

- - - - - - - - - -

He awoke in darkness. He was lying on the ground; it was damp, and there was a musty smell in the air. His chest ached incessantly, as he realized that the blaster must have only been set on stun.

Rising to his feet, he stepped forward and tripped over something before him. A bed, or bench, at least, he thought.

Suddenly, a dim light filled the room; he was in a cell, and a small opening had formed in the door a few feet away. Gloved hands threw some scraps of bread on the ground.

"I hope you enjoy the meal, doctor, it'll have to last you a while!" the voice on the other side of the door laughed. "I'll check back on you in a few weeks, to see how you're doing!"

The small slit closed, and he was in darkness again.

Doctor Luveno kneeled, placing his face in his hands.

The price of my arrogance... he thought. I am a fool...

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