Title: Ninety-Nine
Author: Jordanna Morgan (librarie@jordanna.net)
Archive Rights: Please request the author’s consent.
Rating/Warnings: G.
Characters: Mainly XR, with an appearance by Booster.
Setting: General.
Summary: Ninety-nine times. Just once, he would have liked not to see it coming.

Disclaimer: They belong to Disney/Pixar. I’m only playing with them.
Notes: I actually wrote this four years ago. There was supposed to be a bit more to it. The odds of my ever finishing the story as intended are not high, but I’ve always felt this part deserved to be read, so I finally re-edited it to stand on its own.
Everyone always takes XR’s well-being so much for granted. It’s good for a certain amount of laughs, but let’s face it, some jokes can only be stretched so far. So what does mortality really mean to a machine—especially when he’s the only one to remember that he has it?

 

Ninety-Nine

 

 

“XR? Hey, buddy… wakey wakey!”

 

Oh, sweet mother of Venus, not again.

 

Very slowly, and rather unwillingly, XR roused his optic sensors to life. Static danced across his visual input; then it sharpened and cleared, and he found his entire field of vision spanned by Booster’s anxious face… again. He could have loaded exactly the same image from too many memory files to count.

 

No, that was wrong. He could count them.

 

XR groaned.

 

The dismayed utterance only prompted Booster to grin broadly. He rocked his round, red body backward and settled on his posterior, causing a slight tremor to pass through the deck plating. A sonic welder waved triumphantly in his hand as he exclaimed, “Oh, good, you’re back!”

 

…Apparently so. XR glanced inward, taking a millisecond to reconnoiter with his systems. Memory intact, limbs responsive, all components accounted for… In fact, the CNR processor and lateral flight stabilizer inside him both registered as new. Well, that was one perk, at least. There was a dull ache in his servos, and he could feel a gear in his left arm sticking slightly, but that was nothing unusual for this sort of occasion. The kinks would work out.

 

They always did.

 

He and Booster were both sitting on the deck in 42’s engineering bay. The last thing he remembered before that was open warfare inside a too-small warehouse, in Tradeworld’s infamous Killerville district. A blinding flash, and pain…

 

And that moment, yet again.

 

He didn’t want to ask. He never wanted to ask… but somehow, he always found himself doing it anyway.

 

Ugh… Oookay… So was it Warp Darkmatter, or that big ugly Tangean Grounder with the photon blaster?”

 

“Neither! Your laser went off when you, uh… well… kinda crashed into that crate of antimatter grenades.” Booster winced, but then he grinned again. “It gave Buzz and Mira the diversion they needed, though!”

 

Wow. Gee. How about that. An entire roomful of armed-to-the-tusks interplanetary weapons dealers, and I go and trip on a box of Class-C-violation party favors all by myself. Dear Io, I’ve even got a subconscious death wish now.

 

XR approximated a deep sigh. “Tell me we at least got the bad guys.”

 

“Well, uh… except for Warp. He got away. But we rounded up the rest of the arms dealers.” The big Jo-Adian shrugged, as if to say: All in a day’s work.

 

“Yeah-huh. Right. Go us.” XR experimentally stirred his limbs. Then he turned and began wheeling toward the hatch, leaving Booster to stare after him bemusedly.

 

Sure. Of course. Naturally. After all—who wouldn’t think of getting blown to pieces as being all in a day’s work?

 

And he took note of the number that had silently ticked over, on a counter deep within his positronic brain.

 

 

 

Ninety-nine.

 

There were numbers within the number. One disassembly by manic janitorial bots. Nine assorted crushing impacts. Sixteen total power drains, including those perpetrated by both NOS-4-A2 and the Wirewolf. Twenty-eight external explosions. Thirty-seven laser blasts. Eight so-called “unclassified incidents”. Nevertheless, they all led to the same conclusion.

 

Ninety-nine times that he had died.

 

And ninety-nine times that he had been brought back.

 

XR tried to pretend that he was used to it. That it was no big deal.

 

Being blown up is overrated! I’ve been blown up hundreds of times. You just learn to keep an eye on where your important body parts land.

 

That was nothing more than his flip lip. His pride may have compelled him to bluff to his teammates, but he didn’t even try to deny it to himself. Dying hurt too much to dismiss casually. It wasn’t only in the very tangible pain of feeling his body torn apart or his energy drained away, but in something much deeper: that one endless, inescapable nanosecond of awareness when he knew it was coming.

 

When he knew, and wondered if this time would be the last.

 

That was the worst part.

 

Just once, he would have liked not to see it coming—but his sensors perceived the data far more quickly than any physical body, either organic or technological, could ever react. He would always know… and in that terrible instant of eternity, he would always wonder.

 

Then the question would be answered, with one of his teammates or a crowd of LGMs staring into his face with workmanlike satisfaction as he flickered back to life—and once again, he would pretend.

 

A little thing like death? Hey, no problem. Piece of cake.

 

He pretended so well that they all believed it now.

 

Perhaps that was what his pride deserved, but even so, it was starting to ache. Sure, it was well and good to be more durable than his organic comrades; to be able to step in and save the day now and then, when he was left unaffected by dangers that debilitated them. But didn’t they ever pause, of their own accord, to consider that they might find the limit of his durability someday?

 

A day just like any of these past ninety-nine, when they would cheerfully expect him to spring back to life, arrogant and frivolous and annoying and endearing as ever… but he simply wouldn’t.

 

The line from some ancient, ridiculous verse recalled itself to him.

 

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again

 

XR shuddered.

 

Maybe Ty Parsec bemoaned the many times Buzz had pulled him from a tight spot, but he had nothing on XR. At least people didn’t let Ty get blasted to bits before they even thought about looking out for him.

 

If XR’s organic teammates were subjected to just one of his ninety-nine moments of oblivion, they would be gone forever. He never forgot that, no matter how unconcerned he pretended to be when the danger had passed. He would go through it all another ninety-nine times for any of them. He may never have said it, but to save their fragile, fleeting mortal lives, he would even meet that hypothetical final time.

 

But until that day came, it seemed they would simply dodge the pieces of him that went flying… and then shrug and reach for the broom.


© 2008 Jordanna Morgan