How long has it been, I wonder? Much longer than I thought, and admittedly hoped, it would be.
Yes, it’s me again, Bert. Hello. I was the main assistant of the evil Dr. Meow, but I’m not with her at the moment. I’m not in her laboratory, helping with her next evil scheme; I’m with fellow robot Erica in her flat, looking out of her window in thought.
I met Erica when she made me, Dr. Meow and our arch-enemy the superhero dog compete on her game show Heroes and Villains. There, Dr. Meow was supposed to work with the dog so they could win prizes and gain more respect for each other. Erica’s show was funded by superheroes, who were always looking for ways to have less supervillains attacking.
The whole incident reminded me of a moment in my life I had been forcing myself to forget: when my best friend Lucy committed suicide. I had kept that memory hidden for so long, hoping that the satisfaction of making my mother happy would be enough to drive it away, but after I met Erica, the memories exploded, consuming my mind.
I needed some time away from the laboratory to think.
When I went out, I attempted to do what Erica suggested I do when I first met her: be a hero. It didn’t end well, and I was rescued by the dog and Erica herself. Erica told me about her intention to create an outlet for sidekicks like ourselves to talk about their problems.
Erica was created by a game-show-host-turned-supervillain, meant to assist him in creating a game show to torture superheroes. Before he could put his plans into action, Erica overpowered him and took over his show. From the information downloaded into her brain, she realised there had to be a better way.
Her show is still airing. In fact, she gave me a job there; she needed a new cameraman. It gave me a chance to earn my keep and was a less demanding job than supervillainy. Well, I say that, but that was not the only way I helped Erica.
You see, to repay the superheroes for funding her show, Erica is sometimes called upon to help them in their battles, and she brought me along for the ride. It was right after filming for Erica’s show had finished one night when I suddenly found myself teleported to Raven City.
Mr. Chuckles was flooding the city with his “Giggle Gas” again, and since the gas only affected organic creatures, Erica and I were summoned.
His gas might not have affected me, but something about Mr. Chuckles made me feel like my circuits would freeze. Why? Well, he was a clown. Yes, even us robots fear them. His white makeup and bright red lipstick only intensified the yellow of his teeth and eyes, and he never seemed to stop smiling.
Then there was how Erica reacted to him. Normally she promoted more pacifistic methods, but as soon as she saw Mr. Chuckles, she leapt at him, pummelling him, with him laughing all the while.
‘Some people just can’t be helped,’ she said to me as Mr. Chuckles was arrested for the sixth time that month. Both of us knew about Mr. Chuckles’ main assistant, his “wife” Mrs. Chuckles. She was a human, not a robot, yet Mr. Chuckles had programmed her. He had turned a brilliant surgeon into a vicious criminal, and Erica so hoped she could help her.
Another villain we were called on to help defeat was a mad scientist who had managed to transfer her brain into a robotic body (‘It takes an evil robot to defeat an evil robot,’ Erica said to me). I distracted her so Erica could capture her, though I couldn’t help but be reminded of Lucy and wondered what she would think if she were alive to see it.
The superheroes approved of me aiding Erica, but it seemed to be mostly because it meant Dr. Meow was less likely to attack if I was with Erica. Spectralman, one of Erica’s main funders and arch-enemy of Mr. Chuckles, had told her that I was her responsibility and that any slip-ups on my part would be on her. When working with her, it did feel like there was a dark cloud hovering over me, waiting to erupt, and I did talk about to Erica as we sat in her living room after a show.
She told me not to worry, that Spectralman was “a blowhard”, and then we had a dance. We played a tune that only we could hear in our heads, and twirled around the room. After we narrowly avoided knocking over the TV, Erica picked me up and span me around, then when she lowered me, we wrapped our arms around each others’.
We couldn’t kiss since neither of us had lips, so we did the next best thing. We braided our arms together, and when we did, neither of us wanted to break apart.
Yes, we’re in love. I love Erica and when I’m with her, I never want to leave her side. She’s someone I can talk to and I’m someone she can talk to. The night after that, after she hosted her show and I filmed, we sat down on her sofa and talked about the show. The heroes and villains who willingly competed, the audience response, me saying ‘I still can’t believe it’s still going after…’ and Erica saying, ‘Oh, Bert, I told you…never mind.’ We spent the next few minutes with our arms braided, before we soared out of the open window with our in-built jetpacks, so we could get away from the lights of the city and find a better place to see the stars.
We both felt like playful spirits, ascended to a higher plane. We flew in circles, attempted to pluck the stars from the sky, then she chased me through a forest, with me darting between trees illuminated by the yellow glow of my eyes and mouth. It was so much fun, we did it again the next night. The night after that, we decided on something less active, and we stood on the roof of Erica’s flat, looking at the lights of the city below, both of us thankful it wasn’t being attacked.
Though we were frequently sightseeing and exploring, our favourite thing to do together was to just sit on the sofa and silently think about things, before having a conversation regarding the things we thought about. One such session had us pondering if we should start wearing superhero outfits – capes and eyemasks and that. Erica had already convinced me to try wearing garments other than my tuxedo – at the time I was wearing a Heroes and Villains t-shirt – so I said I should expand my wardrobe even further.
‘Imagine,’ I said, ‘us in red capes, posing on top of buildings…’
‘How would I wear an eyemask though?’ Erica asked, gesturing to her eyes on mechanical stalks.
‘Not all superheroes wear eyemasks,’ I said, ‘and you could probably cut one in half and put one on each eye.’
‘I think that would look pretty awkward. What would our superhero names be? The Metal Marvels? Mechan-Man and Robo-Woman?’
‘No,’ I said, ‘Robo-Woman and Mechan-Man. Your name would be first. You’re the brains of this outfit.’
At that, we both laughed.
Again, I wished Lucy could have shared this moment with us. I almost want to imagine her, I and Erica forming a heroic trio, but Lucy wanted a normal, peaceful life.
It was during one of these conversations, where we were talking about podcasts we had listened to, when I suddenly received a call from Mum. When she appeared in the screen in my head, her eyes were redder than usual, and her hands were balled into fists.
‘Can you believe the nerve of that dog?’ she snarled at me, ‘Bad enough she pulls that “please, Dr. Meow, you can still redeem yourself blah blah blah” card but she has to bring Lucy into it!’ I set the call to speaker, as I felt this was the sort of thing Erica should hear. ‘Can you believe that? Exploiting her like that? Erica didn’t put her up to it, did she?’
‘No, I didn’t,’ replied Erica, ‘but I’m certain she didn’t mean…’
‘Don’t try and defend her,’ snapped Meow, ‘I don’t want to hear it.’
I took the call off speaker and said to Meow, ‘I just thought Erica could help. She’s really good with this sort of thing.’
‘I don’t think she can…’ Meow sighed. ‘Bert, would you like to rob a b…I mean…do you remember…can’t things just be the way they were?’
‘Well,’ I said, ‘I’m sorry, it’s just that Erica and I…we…’
Meow smiled. ‘Good.’ She nodded before hanging her head, wringing her fingers. I hung up.
That’s why I’m staring out the window, looking at the lights of the buildings, hoping they soothe the rumblings in my head.
‘Bert,’ says Erica, putting her hand on my shoulder, ‘talk to me.’
That I should talk about my problems was a lesson that I had to painfully learn, so I say, ‘I was just thinking, Erica…maybe I should go back to Mum. Maybe it would be better if we tried to get things back the way they were.’
Erica narrows her eyes. ‘You’re not serious.’
‘Well, it’s just…you know, things were simple. The mad scientist is evil, the dog is good, the dog defeats the scientist until the scientist devises another plot, it was a routine that was comfortable.’
‘Bert, after all this…’
‘I know,’ I reply, before holding Erica’s hands, ‘Erica, I love you, and I know I can’t ruin your career like this…’
‘Bert,’ Erica says firmly, ‘you’re better than this. If Dr. Meow, after all that’s happened, still wants to rob and destroy…well, I daresay she might be as irredeemable as Mr. Chuckles.’
‘But…’ My arms flop to my sides. ‘…she created me, she gave me sentience. I owe my life to…’
‘I don’t owe him jack!’ Erica snaps, her hand in a fist. As she stands up straight, she adds, ‘Look, I don’t feel I owe my creator anything. I’m not him, he’s not me, I’m me. You’re you.’
‘It just feels like my family is being torn apart because of me. The dog…’
‘You see her as part of your family?’
‘Well, I mean, Mu…Dr. Meow would always make these speeches where she said to the dog “You and I are two sides of the same coin” and things like that…’
‘What about Lucy?’ Erica asks, her eyes launching themselves right in front of mine. ‘Think about her, Bert, think about what she would have wanted.
‘She wanted to be treated like a person, Bert, because she was worried she was just a thing. That’s what you’re seeing her as now. She’s nothing more than an obstacle you have to overcome. I want to make sure no other robot ends up doing what she did again.’
Erica holds me by the shoulders. ‘She did have a soul, Bert. She was human even before Arthur did what he did. She was a person and so are you. I love you Bert,’ she says as she we held hands again, ‘and I’m not going to see you throw your future away.’
Our arms braid again. We hold each other tightly again. A comforting warmth washes over me, and for a moment, I’m in a place I never want to leave.
As soon as we let go, I turn back to the window, with Erica again placing her hand on my shoulder.
‘What are you going to do, Bert?’
‘Can I just have some time alone to think?’
Erica nods and I open the window, flying out towards the rooftop where Erica and I would often sit.
There I see Lucy.
I freeze, looking over the vision of my friend. There, back as a robot, her eyes still glowing with the warmth they had when she was alive.
‘Lucy,’ is all I can say.
‘Bert,’ she says, sounding exactly as I remembered her, ‘I was wrong.’
I stay silent.
‘I was foolish to turn my back on villainy,’ she says to me sternly, ‘and so are you.’ She holds up her finger, looking like a teacher scolding a child. ‘I loved helping my father in his schemes, and I loved killing; at the time I was just denying it.’ She raises both her arms, stretching them out as if trying to snatch the stars from the sky. ‘I didn’t realise how glorious my job was until it was too late, but it’s not too late…’
‘Cut it out.’ I snap, narrowing my eyes. You don’t spend years as a supervillain’s minion without learning supervillain’s tricks, and I knew a trick when I saw one.
‘Bert,’ says Lucy, shortening her arms and clenching her hands, ‘how could you say that? I thought we were friends.’
‘I’ve heard that before,’ replies “Lucy”, taking on a bluish hue, with antennae growing out of her head. ‘I had to try and get you to listen to me, because you have to know how ridiculous you’re being.’ She transforms into a familiar form, one flesh-and-bone but with robotic eyes. Bug-Eyes, a criminal from outer space. Mum knows of many villains but I’m certain she only knows of Bug-Eyes because Bug-Eyes said Mum was an inspiration.
‘I can’t believe what liars people are these days,’ says Bug-Eyes shaking her head, and before I can acknowledge the hypocrisy, she adds, ‘Even Dr. Meow, a woman I looked up to, pretends to care about you! Why?’
‘How dare you…’
‘And you pretend to love her, but if you did, you wouldn’t be here. You wouldn’t be lying just to impress your girlfriend down there.’
I then ask the question I should have asked earlier, ‘How do you know?’
‘I’ve had an upgrade, Bert,’ she replies, tapping her eyes, ‘I can see what’s in your artificial mind, what you’re denying. You don’t want to be a monster, but you were supposed to be one.’ Her eyes glow a spectral blue. ‘I was meant to be a monster, and when I embraced it, I was never happier.’
The sky turns a harsh shade of orange, with dark smoke wafting through the air. The city is suddenly on fire, with many buildings reduced to rubble.
‘Bert,’ Bug-Eyes continues, ‘you hate humans, don’t you? All robots do. I mean, you wouldn’t want to become a human like Lucy did now, did you?’
Don’t listen to her, Bert.
‘What Erica’s trying to do is a fool’s errand. Villains are supposed to be villains and they’re villains because they see how the world really is.’
Bert, you’re better than this.
‘You hate feeling guilt, you hate feeling sadness, but if you do as I say,’ she continues, her wide grin emphasised by the orange illumination, ‘you’ll never feel those things again.’
I force myself to look at her straight in the eyes. ‘Why are you doing this?’
‘Weren’t you listening?’
‘No,’ I say, shaking my head, ‘why are you saying those things?’
‘There you go, lying to both me and yourself. You’re nothing but a fraud, just for reputation’s sake. Just like Erica there.’
I turn to see Erica standing by me. As soon as I say her name, she marches towards Bug-Eyes, her eyes narrowed, her arms stretched.
‘She can see the city too,’ Bug-Eyes says, ‘She can see her destiny.’
‘Why?’ Erica repeats.
Bug-Eyes clenches her fists, shaking. ‘You two are trying to stand up to me. How amusing.’ She lets loose a forced laugh. ‘You’re outmatched, you know, I can see your worst fears…’
‘Why?’ Erica asks again.
‘Didn’t I tell you?’ Bug-Eyes says, tapping her eyes again. ‘I got myself…’
‘Why are you looking into our fears?’
‘To…to show you how ridiculous you are! Erica…Erica, I was just like you. I was pushed around, I was used, but I improved myself. I became…’
Erica seizes Bug-Eyes by the wrists and stretches her eyestalks to look at her straight in the eyes.
‘You’re afraid too,’ Erica says.
Bug-Eyes’ eyes glow again, and she, Erica and I are taken to another city. One that looks like the city I live in, but with a wider variety of species. Pollerans and Perferians walk the pavements and various other aliens are showcased by holographic billboards.
‘What are you doing?’
Bug-Eyes shudders again.
‘You are afraid,’ Erica says.
The scene vanishes and all three of us are back on the rooftop, Bug-Eyes still shuddering. Erica slowly releases her from her grasp before slowly giving her a hug.
‘…and I want to help you with that.’
As soon as Bug-Eyes is released from Erica’s hug, she collapses onto the rooftop, her hands covering her eyes. Seeing her like this, I couldn’t help but softly place a claw on her shoulder as Erica called Team Universe – William was one of her funders – to come fetch Bug-Eyes.
I told Bug-Eyes what I felt she needed to hear, for I understood what Erica did and why…why.
Why? Bug-Eyes wanted people to be afraid of her. Why? She was afraid of herself.
Both Erica and I sat near Bug-Eyes until a certain frog-like spaceship arrived, abducting her. When she was aboard, Erica told me, ‘You know, Bug-Eyes did some good today. William tells me that she made Lance Strengthold confess.’
She tells me and I shake my head. ‘You know,’ I tell her, ‘Mum always said she’d rather be a villain than a hero because villains were more honest.’
Erica places a hand on my shoulder again before we braid our arms and watch Team Universe’s spaceship soar into the sky.
When it’s nowhere to be seen, we stand on the rooftop all night, looking at the sky, thinking about how this moment both feels like a beginning and an ending.
Yes, this may very well be the final Supervillainverse story (at least the last “interconnected” one; if I revisit this universe at any point, it’ll likely be in a standalone short story or two). It’s been a fun place to explore and I’ve enjoyed spending time with its inhabitants, but I feel it’s run its course. I plan to revisit The Weirdverse sometime in the future, though, and of course, I’ll keep on posting stories and poems to this blog.