Copyright © 2014 by Gerald Brynelson
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Printed in Canada
First Printing, 2014
Deep Sky Stories Inc. ©
A few details –
Unique symbols in the story:
((…words here…)): Words spoken telepathically.
The years have gone by, it is the 21st C.,
Exactly which year is a mystery to me.
A fantastic scrapyard has slowly collected,
Filled with curious things we forgot and neglected,
Things robotic, things full of wire,
The kinds of things we inventors desire.
Things not perfect which may be made whole again,
As beautifully new and different inventions.
Along comes a lad whose father flew faraway,
But he hopes to find him again, someday.
He works on his own with amazing machines,
So he can finally solve the mystery of his dreams.
But being alone doesn’t make a happy end,
He'll never fulfill his dreams without finding a friend.
So sit back, dear reader, turn the first paper leaf,
There's a fantastic scrapyard, with a secret underneath.
Chapter I - Big Ben and the Boy
A blue-white light as bright as the sun flashed blindingly in the gloom of the evening. A whistling snap accompanied it, along with the low crackle of high-voltage electricity.
Big Ben moved and worked slowly but with great power. Again and again the glaring star of searing light flashed and crackled, with molten hot drops popping away from it to glance off mighty arms or the heavy pieces of sheet metal that he easily held in each hand. Nothing matched his brawn, his tireless steel muscles as he held the two fifty pound steel plates at the proper angle while his third, welder arm moved delicately along the thin gap between them. Slowly and precisely it moved, fusing the two heavy, shaped pieces together with its super-heated voltage which arced off the long, melting stick of a welding rod.
There seemed to be a boy, a child actually, who was hunkered down in Big Ben's middle and following every move that he made with his mighty steel arms.
This was rather odd for the monster to accept, but he grudgingly allowed the boy to remain there while he carried on with his task at hand.
Every so often, Big Ben stopped working, even though he would rather not, and the boy would stop too and get out of his large, metal belly and walk over to a workbench where he bent over paper plans of some sort.
Big Ben waited, patient and still, with the two heavy metal plates clamped firmly in his vice-hands. The boy was rather thin and gangly, perhaps twelve years old, with longish brown hair falling over his eyes as he read over some technical blueprints which lay before him. Big Ben allowed this behavior to continue, with the boy hopping in and out of him at regular intervals to check a measurement or mutter to himself about a wiring connection.
At every move he made, Big Ben felt the thin lad manipulate small, flexible hand controls within him, and push foot-pedals as well. This was slightly worrisome for Big Ben; could it be that the small, weakling of a boy was actually causing him to move? Big Ben's silent question went unanswered though, while his powerful hydraulic arms worked tirelessly on.
A noisy, clattering pump kept the black fluid that was his life-blood flowing strongly through high-pressure hydraulic lines. They ran through his massive arms like rubbery veins, with the pressurized "blood" filling each piston cylinder at the proper time in order that an arm could move and bend to pick up another heavy object. Big Ben never grew weary of his work; in fact he could continue indefinitely, being a robot. The boy within him did seem to be tiring though, so Big Ben slowed his movements courteously so the lad could keep up with him.
A small pile of short, spent welding rods had collected on the cement floor of the workshop, along with rusty pieces of discarded scrap-iron and welding slag-beads. It seemed that the day had long since ended yet still the young boy and Big Ben labored on. Finally, his mighty arms dropped, limply at his side and the huge robot wondered why he couldn't lift them, not even as much as a twitch.
A soft weeping sound seemed to be coming from inside him and Big Ben sat there listening dumbly, not knowing what to make of the strange sound. The boy stumbled out of Big Ben and shuffled slowly over to the workbench, but this time he slumped down on a wooden little stool and lay with his head in his arms over the musty, wrinkled blueprints. Quietly he rested there, still weeping softly.
A single word came faintly back to Big Ben where he stood stiff and still in the deepening shadows of night-fall.
"Dad", the boy whispered, "oh dad, why did you have to go away..." Then all was truly silent in the workshop save for the boy’s soft, deep breathing as he fell asleep there.
Not too long afterward, the door to the shed creaked open and another person entered. Big Ben stood guard nearby but he felt that nothing needed to be feared from the intruder. The larger person quietly took the boy in her arms and kissed his weary, tired little brow.
"There, there, Alex", she whispered, "that’s enough work for today, son." The single, bare light bulb went out as the workshop door clattered shut for the night and Big Ben, the large, powerful construction-bot stood silent and dumb, arms hanging at his sides while outside, crickets filled the still country night with their communal song.
The machine that he and the lad were working on was the strangest looking thing Big Ben had yet seen in his many years of duty. A teardrop-shaped vehicle of some sort was slowly taking form in the boy's workshop, and it had a single pilot's seat in the center of the saucer section while the rest of the fuselage tapered away to a thin tail. It was truly a sleek looking craft, built for extreme velocity both in and out of the atmosphere.
Puzzling, thought the silently waiting robot. He had sat rusting and abandoned deep in the junk and trash of the scrapyard until being found by the boy who generously repaired Big Ben so he could see duty again in his aged, advanced years. The young human was clearly an inventive sort, with an assortment of various other fascinating devices and machines in his shop. Yet this particular saucer-craft which sat half-finished seemed to command a keener concentration from the boy than had his other ingenious projects.
The cricket-songs continued through the quiet autumn night in a soft, undisturbed chorus and Big Ben remained where he had been left for the day. He was, in reality, not much more than simple-minded bulldozer yet his dim perceptions and massive machine pride blinded him to the fact that it was the boy, not he who was the actual controller of his actions.
The crickets droned on until the witching hour approached, then one-by-one they fell silent till all became quiet outside. A mild night wind restlessly rustled the lazy branches of the surrounding trees and tangled underbrush which hid the boy’s home from the scrapyard beyond the fence. An uneasy silence hung over the countryside which, it seemed, would not allow the night to complete its dark hours toward the dawn until something significant was begun, or finished...
The silence remained so for another half hour until a new sound interrupted all else and came to the robot on the cool night air.
"Ping...ping-ping-ping...", came the odd sound from not far away; out in the scrapyard, just outside the workshop door actually. It was where Big Ben and his little partner went in search of new parts and pieces to the machine they were building.
Zzeeeeeeeeeeeeeee...", came a faint, distant reply. A furtive scuttle of little legs was heard just outside the workshop door and Big Ben, though he was more brutish than intelligent, tensed slightly in the dark corner. "Legs", the little scavenger-robot that the boy had built himself, sat beside Big Ben in total sleep-mode, recharging and unaware. All was silent again for a few more moments.
Then, quite suddenly, there was a vicious exchange of small, sharp explosions and for a few brief seconds the darkness was replaced by a bright blue welder's flash which penetrated through the cracks in the walls of the workshop. Something had hunted and something else had died just outside that door. And, from somewhere far away in the scrapyard, a child gave a triumphant cry as a warrior from long ages past would have after defeating a sworn enemy.
As midnight approached, something among the stars shining down on the small town of Delta, moved ever so slightly... it was not a star.
The Strangers in Rosie’s Diner…
Every community, no matter how small or boring, has at one time or other had some strange tale for the local town-folk to tell each other or to newcomers. Even people just passing through and stopping for a cup of coffee at the local diner might over-hear some such urban myths or tall tales coming from the booth just behind them. The small farming town of Delta was no different than any other, except for one striking difference...the tall tale actually did happen...or so the locals said. And they claim it happened not so very long ago...
The story began, oddly enough, with the arrival in Delta Town of several identical, very large tractor-trailers. They arrived in a convoy of six trucks, all painted a cloudy dark gray. The trucks came out of the dark of night and all rumbled to a stop in front of Rosie's Diner, the only place in town that was still open so late. The few locals who were still lingering for a last desert or coffee were taken aback and fell silent as the new arrivals filed through the door. All heads turned as the small diner quickly filled up as though it was suddenly the morning rush again.
The first group to enter stood out in harsh contrast to the second, smaller group of long-haul truckers. What made the first group so noticeable was not only their hurried impatience but also their clothing; they all wore long, white lab coats. More than one eyebrow was cocked suspiciously at the noisy intrusion of so many out-of-towners. The people became all the more uneasy because the twenty lab-coats all appeared to be agitated and in a great hurry as well. The truckers were just plain tired and hungry. To a man they had the bleary-eyed look of drivers who’d travelled a long way without the luxury of one break until that moment.
Poor Rosie had sent most of her staff home as it was almost closing time; all except for her best employee, Elizabeth Faraway. Even she had been all but prepared to leave for the day but decided to stay and help a little longer when the sudden arrivals refilled the sleepy little diner.
Rush orders were made and rather brusquely at that. Apparently the lab-coats were running late for something very important to them and their impatience was making them close to the point of rude to the two remaining women. Fresh pots of coffee had to be made and the grill reheated, Elizabeth was run off her feet taking order after order for meals and drinks from the anxious, impatient crowd.
For their part, the truckers relished the hearty meals and fresh-brewed coffee and polished their plates clean – a few even had time for seconds, so quickly did they eat. Oddly, one meal was ordered to-go on behalf of someone else. Apparently one of the members of the mismatched group had not wished to eat inside the diner.
The order, when given by one of the white-coated men, seemed somewhat familiar to Mrs. Faraway too. Fifteen minutes had hardly elapsed when the tired yet hurried group lined up at the front counter to pay their bills and go. Wrist-phones jerked anxiously up and down while some of the lab-coats in the tight line impatiently prodded their comrades in front of them like rude children. Rosie’s considerable mastery in her kitchen had refreshed the truckers in the group as well because they left the diner with full stomachs and bade her many grateful goodbyes. As she rang in the totals for each meal, Elizabeth overheard bits and snatches of an urgent conversation.
"Wish we had more time to test it", one man whispered anxiously.
"Don't worry so much", another said, "most of the previous launches went off without a hitch...we're over the hump I tell you."
"Yeah, but this is out in the middle of nowhere", retorted the first, "you may be right, Sanders, still...I don't envy the people that we're strapping into that thing...and what about the Others? They said we should visit them tonight...said they found some problems -"
"Shush, will you please keep your voice down, I'm paying", the second whispered harshly. Indeed, the tall, thin lab-coat had finally reached the counter and was in the middle of handing his payment to Elizabeth when he caught sight of the plastic nametag on her lapel. He did a double-take and froze in mid-step. His companion from behind who was in very much of a hurry stumbled face-first into his back - "Umph", he grouched, startled.
"Mrs. Faraway", the man said with shocked astonishment. Elizabeth looked up, surprised that the stranger had spoken her name as if he knew her.
"Y-yes", she answered cautiously. But both men now were not looking at her but were instead staring out the diner window at one of the gray trucks that had already been started and was ready to leave. Elizabeth followed their gazes but only caught a glimpse of a shadowy figure in the cab of the truck. The interior light winked off quite suddenly, depriving her of a better look at the person inside. Before she knew what else was happening, the two men were hurrying out the door without even asking for their change. The last man was carrying the bag of take-out food for the unknown person who hadn't entered the diner that night.
Something clicked in her memory and Elizabeth looked again at that particular order. It had seemed oddly familiar when she wrote it down earlier. Strange, that man knew her name, and something more. Now she understood...that order...it was her husband's favorite meal at Rosie's as well! A sudden uneasiness gripped Elizabeth coldly, in the pit of her stomach. Could John somehow be out there right now with those strange men and not want her to know? But, what possible reason would he have to behave that way? He did work with a group of rather secretive people at an old Air Force base, several miles out of town though. John was often away for days at a time and Elizabeth had grown to accept that, but lately, his absences had become longer and longer. He was always quietly evasive about the work.
"National security", was the routine explanation he often gave her when the questions became too searching. Her few seconds of hesitation cost Elizabeth any further answers because the long convoy of heavily laden trucks began pulling away from the diner with the loud roar and clatter of powerful diesel engines. The line of trucks was already picking up speed and heading off into the unknown darkness as Elizabeth hurried outside calling her husband’s name, half frightened, half uncertain.
"John, is that you?” “John?" With an almost guilty lurch, the truck shifted gears and sped up, rounding the corner at the end of the street. All six trucks with their unknown payloads and strange passengers headed for the deeper darkness of the quiet, uninhabited countryside. A bright hail of beautiful falling stars lit the night sky overhead as silent, alien witnesses to the restless convoy below them.
Except for what followed later that night, the anxious strangers were never seen or heard from again. Whatever shook the small farming community at twelve O'clock midnight though was so unusual that, everyone agreed, it must have had something to do with the mission that those tired, impatient men were so bent on finishing. Whatever deadline had been due on that very eventful night had somehow been met on time, so the local folks said.
Old Elliot's Horror...
On the day following “the event”, an old hobo named Old Elliot stumbled into the Delta police jailhouse stammering and wild-eyed and trying to tell a very strange tale. The day-shift supervisor, Sergeant Cash had been receiving reports by the minute since 12:00 AM, telling of something terrible like an earthquake or an explosion happening near or inside the Brinnel's Bog nature reserve.
Knowing Elliot’s quirky personality and his history of odd behavior – for he would often sit and mumble to himself while gazing at distant Mackintosh Mountain with glazed, vacant eyes then blurt out, “Nethlins!”, and startle passersby – Jim Cash was understandably skeptical.
Nevertheless, the policeman allowed the old vagrant to give a statement of sorts to him, describing what he saw shortly before the stroke of midnight; before the bog burned. Old Elliot told Jim a tale of such a spine-chilling encounter that it made the veteran police officer shiver to the bone even days afterward when he thought about it; usually in the dark of midnight.
Old Elliot was a pack-rat type of person, always hunting around for old bits and pieces of scrap and trash to sell at the second-hand store in Delta-town. It was a meager kind of life but Old Elliot hadlong since grown used to rooting around amongst the trash in darkened alleyways and on the outskirts of town; and most folks had grown used to him too. So it was that fateful night when Elliot, during his wanderings, found himself out in the lonely countryside at an old scrapyard not far from Brinnel's Bog. It was a unique scrapyard because it contained long-abandoned military surplus and robotic parts of the most unusual kind. There was nothing that was actually dangerous, yet, there were other things there; things that could make a curious person wonder and scratch their chin and keep looking for more.
Elliot was doing just that when he saw two pairs of truck headlights approaching the scrapyard from a few miles away, far enough so that he was able to find an old rusty dumpster to hunker down behind and watch nervously as the rumbling diesels drew near. There was a palpable tension in the air which seemed to reach Elliot long before the trucks did. A feeling of urgency, even fear which he tried vainly to shrug off.
Old Elliot was tough enough and had lived long enough through hard times to scare easily, but what he claimed he saw would thrill through his memory till the day he died. You see, the old dumpster that he had chosen to hide behind seemed to be perfect for him - at first. It concealed Elliot completely and was also near the top of one of the larger piles of scrap so he could see the whole area and watch the approaching trucks as they entered the scrapyard.
What Elliot could not have known was that his hiding spot was exactly the same place that the trucks came and stopped in front of. What a horrible sensation it was to be sitting hunched down as small as he could make himself while four blazing high beams were trained like searchlights on the other side of the dumpster. Poor Elliot couldn't believe his bad luck. He shut his eyes and clutched himself because he was trembling so violently. What, he wondered fearfully, could all these people want this far out in the country, in the middle of a junkyard and, for heaven sake, inside an old empty dumpster. For it was empty, he had looked in it even before seeing the approaching lights. It was tipped over on its side and half-buried in scrap-iron. There was nothing at all that was special about it, except that the men felt the need to be there.
Silence fell suddenly over the yard as all the trucks were shut off as if they were toys. A snapping and sparking of static electricity filled the air and the lights went out too. Elliot heard startled yells coming from below the scrap pile. An eerie stillness crept through the junkyard...even the night air seemed to grow colder.
And then...something moved...gently and delicately. It was something that had been hiding in wait; waiting in the shadows among the misshapen heaps of metal and wire. It shivered and little nuts and bolts fell away from it, making tinny rattling sounds as they fell back into the clefts and hollows it had come out of. Old Elliot cringed down, down as low as he could become and still lower. The whining of little, hard gears and gyros filled the stillness which only added a sinister sharpness to the already fearful experience. The sound brought images of dentist drills and tooth grinders to Elliot's imagination.
It seemed that his ordeal could become no worse, but it did. Something hard and cold crept so closely passed him that it brushed against his bare ankle. An iron-hard, little foot stepped sharply down on his old raggedy shoe and Elliot let out a horrified gasp which, in such utter stillness, must have easily been heard. In his state of abject horror, Elliot thought his mind must have been running away with him, for the thing that he saw emerging from its shadowy hole and into the pale moonlight was not some night-prowling rodent or rat which he was accustomed to seeing in the dumps and scrap-piles at night.
No, this thing...it was a fly. But such an enormous fly and so black, with long, sharp black wings, folded back to their points. It did not glint or shine in the dull moon-rays but seemed to absorb them into its cold, black body. Indeed, the very air of the night seemed to feel dank and musty as it passed Elliot by.
So intent was the dark thing on meeting those down below that it seemed either to not notice or, more likely, not to care that poor Elliot sat in cold shock not two feet away. Slanted, glowing, evil violet eyes looked back into his own and held him transfixed in their wicked gaze.
"Larj", it said with a dry, grinding voice, before creeping away to meet those who waited below the scrap-pile. Soon the nightmare took on an even larger dimension as more and more of the same tinkling, scuttling sounds came from out of other deep hollows and crevices all around Elliot. Two, Six, Fifteen, more still. There seemed to be no end to them, and as he listened, Elliot soon heard a commotion coming from down below. What had before been but normal conversation among the men quickly turned into fearful cries and horrified panic.
"Look, there’re more of them -"
"They're all around here. Are you sure they really want to help us?"
"This wasn't a good idea, coming out here. W-we should go join the others at the launch site now."
"Hey, this one's trying to climb up my leg!"
"Get it off me!” “What's wrong with them?”
"We should leave here - now!”
"Nno...yyouu sstaay", said a dry, rasping voice in reply. It chilled Elliot to the bone to hear such a voice. It carried darkness and death with it.
The first screams suddenly rose up to him from the dark pit below and galvanized Elliot into escaping while he still had a slim chance. He stood up to run but for one brief instant, he turned and looked and what he saw seared his memory with the sights and sounds of pure horror.
The ground all around the small knot of men was moving and shifting like a thick, oily pool that was blacker than anything he had ever seen. Some of the men were already on their hands and knees, with three or four of the cat-sized flies hopping and crawling up on their backs. Their white lab-coats were wrinkled and stretched up into large moving humps which Elliot realized were even more flies that had crawled up under them!
With a sudden lurch and scream, each of the men fell limp as rags on the ground, as the fly under each coat sank small steel needles into their victim’s back. There was no more that Elliot wished to see and, insane with panic, he ran as he had never run before in his life. As he ran he cast about with frantic eyes, searching for a sign of help from anywhere out of the dark night around him.
Beautiful little meteors shot by over him in soft contrast to the bleak terrors which pursued poor Elliot that night. After a mile of running, maybe two, hope came at last with the appearance in the distance of a faint, yellow square of light shining from the small upper window of Rosie’s Diner. Crying out as he drew up to the darkened front door, Elliot began pounding frantically with his fists, still certain that he would, in an instant, feel a cold, sharp needle stabbing into his back as he had seen happen down in the center of that shifting mass of black evil.
Without warning, it happened. A force hit Elliot square in the back and slammed his face against the hard wooden door of the diner. An instant later, a flash of blinding light momentarily turned night into day, as though one hundred lightning bolts had struck as one. Out of the corner of his watering eye, Elliot caught a glimpse of something clean and striking lifting itself up from the midst of the trees of a forest a short two or three mile away from the little town. The roar of it soon reached him then and deafened him so that his ears were ringing and he heard no more. Still he couldn't take his eyes off the strange splendor of it all, for it was, without a doubt, a ship, a machine of some sort, and it hung there for one last millisecond bathing the earth for miles around in a pure white light.
Someone could have snapped their fingers and still would not have been quicker than the ship when it shot like an arrow straight and true up into the clear sky to be seen no more. Strained from the fears and shock of a night like no other, Elliot fell to the ground and into the grace of unconsciousness. When the door opened, the inside light would reveal to those dwelling inside, a crumpled old man, lying face-down on the dusty ground, as still as if dead. A young woman came out and knelt over Elliot.
"Rosie", she called, "there's a man out here who needs help." Something else caught her attention then. Clutched tightly in the old man’s hand was what appeared to be a needle-thin shard of colored glass. She reached down and was just about to touch it when she was distracted by a bright explosion of flames in the near-distance. Looking up, Elizabeth Faraway noticed a large fire blazing among the trees of Brinnel's Bog, a few miles away. At that same moment her baby boy, lying in his crib in the upstairs apartment, gave a mournful little cry as if he knew that he had just lost someone very precious to him.
At midnight on that night not so very long ago, Alex Faraway’s father settled himself into a padded captain's chair and, by the soft red glow of overhead console lights, sipped his last cup of well brewed coffee; his very last. Carefully, methodically, he went step-by-step through a prepared checklist, ticking off each stage of preparation as it was completed. There could be no errors made that night...one mistake would equate into instantaneous death for him as well as anyone within a quarter-mile radius from his machine. No, that would not be acceptable.
As he ticked off each well-defined procedure on a touchpad, the soft whine of close-tolerance gyros could be heard starting up from somewhere beneath his chair. The control panel itself appeared very complex and seemed to close in and around John Faraway from every angle. The wonder of this softly humming and blinking spherical panel was that it also seemed to sense the wishes of its controller and continually swiveled and tilted this way and that before his eyes in a rather dizzying fashion. By doing so the control panel was able to present each button, dial, or touch-pad under John’s fingertips as he needed each one. It was the obedient, elegant vessel which expended the most energy, not the humans which it carefully cradled.
Doctor John Faraway's field of expertise was that of scientific analysis, shatter-through innovation and exploration. The vessel which seemed to merge with his thoughts was the physical extension of his decisions. If you, the observer, were to step one pace back from these intense preparations, then you could turn and peer through the small view port and see that the trees outside the ship were moving slightly as if a fresh breeze was blowing through their branches.
Silent streaks of red and orange darted over Brinnel's Bog, signaling the arrival of more shooting stars. How close they seemed to be to the tree-tops that night. For some strange reason, this place was the middle of a forest, with thick trees growing all around a small meadow, as if to conceal the man and his machine while it quietly warmed up. There was one other with him as well, a young woman, seated behind him and going about her own tasks in unison with Dr. Faraway. The other people in their party had already completed their necessary tasks and had left in one of the four remaining trucks that had transported them and the spaceship there.
John hoped to see them again but doubted he would. There had been a divisive argument between a smaller group and the rest of his team, regarding the wisdom of a launch that night. They had received information regarding a safety issue of the up-coming launch from the Others, along with an urgent request for a meeting to postpone the voyage until some more safety checks could be made on his vessel. But recent contacts with the Others had left Doctor Faraway feeling uneasy. There was a stifling sense among his team that an increasing hostility was growing among the Others to discourage, even stop him from having a successful departure. His suspicions were confirmed during a recent discussion with his team members, who did a final inspection and cleared him for a launch. There seemed to be an unusual sense of urgency on their part as well, a polite shortness which contrasted with their usual professionalism. There was a haggard and anxious look among all of them. No, something definitely did not feel right about this night. Either he and his team-members were wrong about all their painstaking safety checks and preparations - and in one minute there would be one heck of a fireball lighting up the sky - or the Others were as untrustworthy as he had suspected during the past few years of working with them.
John Faraway pushed the last button almost in a daydream and a more ominous rushing sound ran through the vessel’s hull as Parathagon Gas began flowing into the hollow spirals within the State-Shift Coils of his ship. John Faraway settled back in his pilot seat, a small satisfied smile played across his face for a fleeting moment. This was it...the big goodbye to everything he knew...his world...his family. Only then did he think to take his eyes away from the ship’s controls and gaze out the little round portal. He searched longingly through the oddly waving branches and through a small gap in the trees he saw it: a barely visible little square of soft, yellow light. It was a small light, really, yet it held him in a delicate spell of quiet magic for five wonderful seconds.
"Goodbye, Alex", he whispered, “I‘m sorry I can‘t be with you and your mother but it‘s better this way. You will safer if…” But he could not finish. He did not want to think of darker things at that moment. "Please think of me, son", he said, then turned away. "Did you say something, boss", said a playful, teasing voice from over his shoulder. I must be getting old because I thought you just said something about a T-Rex."
"Aw pipe-down, Vasquez“, Mr. retorted with a wry smile, “for the love of all that's holy, can you, for two minutes, please be quiet...you're making me grow old with your constant wise-cracks."
"Just keeping you real and your feet on the ground", she quipped light-heartedly. Then more seriously she said, “I wonder how the rest of the team is. Did you ever hear anything from that astronomer friend of yours? Mr. Jansen?” Before John could answer though, something hard hit the side of the vessel with a loud clang. For a split second, John Faraway had the funny image in his mind of someone’s delinquent kid throwing stones at him from a hiding place somewhere in the trees. He frowned with bemusement until a second then a third and more of the sounds came in quick succession against the metal hull. Soon it began to sound like a hail-storm outside!
"What's going one", Vasquez yelled in shock. Pressing his face against the round portal glass, Faraway jumped back immediately as a large black form hurtled against it with a savage ferocity. Two blazing violet eyes burned with alien hatred then went dim as the creature mashed itself to a black pulp against the thick Plexiglas then fell away to the ground.
"Jeez", Faraway cried out, taken totally unawares, "it's the Others", he yelled back, "and they've gone mad, we have to take off before they pulverize the ship!" Then another sight made him freeze as though none of that even mattered. It couldn't be...it was one of the technicians who had left the main group some hours before to meet with the Others. They had left the main group despite his protests. Sanders perhaps, he wasn't certain who it was because the Sanders he knew looked nothing like the pathetic thing that was now stumbling towards his craft with jerking, puppet-like movements.
As he approached the now besieged vessel, Sanders could be seen trying to reach over his shoulder every so often, vainly attempting to dislodge something attached to his back. His head looked wrong as well, and as he came nearer, John Faraway noticed that there was a large quivering hump on his back which made his now dirt-stained lab-coat bulge up unnaturally and pull tightly against his chest.
It wasn't until Sanders was out in the clearing and in the full light of the moon that John at last understood what had been done to him. For, from up out of his coat collar he saw peering the eyes and head of one of the hideous robotic Flies.
But the true horror of his fate also became clear. Sanders had been turned into nothing more than a living, walking vehicle with the Fly as the driver of his body. Snaking out of the Fly's head could be seen two black wires which divided into dozens of smaller monofilament wires. Each of these had attached itself to Sanders' head, forming a sort of black, tight, crown all around it. But these marvels of technology were far more sinister. They were exo-nerve ganglia wires which, when attached to a victim’s skull, sent their own impulses through to the brain, overpowering the central nervous system. Sanders was now nothing more than a human alien whose muscle movements were made at the Fly's wishes.
And its wish now was to sabotage the lift-off. Sanders walked robot-like right under the view port and took hold of a large valve wheel and with jerking arms, began closing it off. It was the main valve to the Parathagon Gas cylinder which fed into the State-Shift Coils. As he slowly turned the valve wheel, John noticed a hideous, teeth-gritting grimace snapping on and off on the man’s face as though he was still trying to regain some control over his body. His eyes had rolled desperately back in their sockets as if he was trying to see what had happened to his brain. There seemed no hope for him though, as the nerve-control wires snapped his head this way and that with vicious, mechanical precision.
The branches of every tree around the dark clearing were crawling with Flies now, as their hate-filled gemstone eyes flashed a venomous, deep violet glow from every quarter. More man-puppets appeared – the rest of the misguided group – stalking out of the tree-line as if from some bad horror movie, but this was all too real. They were throwing large rocks and anything else they could grab out of the cold, damp soil. The attack grew worse as they drew nearer. Those men had turned over all their trust and lives to the deceitful Flies...and now they were enslaved by them. The co-pilot, Teresa Vasquez could not stomach the sight of them anymore and had to look away.
"They’ve found us, doctor, they must have got the info from one of our team members - we must leave now!", she yelled above the increasing din of metal bodies and rocks smashing pell-mell against the ship's hull. Then she gave another cry as she was heard falling hard against something farther back of his captain’s chair.
Tearing his eyes away from the mesmerizing sight before him, John sat quickly back in the control chair. His thoughts raced and the wondrous dome console blurred soundlessly round till a single red-outlined oval of navigational flight dials and one simple blue button stopped before his eyes. He did not hesitate - John Faraway reached out and with a feather-light touch, pushed the flight button.
A calm sense of finality overcame him despite all the havoc coming from outside. He settled back into the cushioned chair and allowed himself the luxury of a boyish smile.
The laws of relativity closed swiftly about his vessel, trying to regain their proper balance as the relevance of Time was ever so slightly blurred from 3-Dimensional space by the Dimensional Imbalance Engine which the State-Shift Coils gave birth to. Time lost a thin layer of "density" and for that layer to be regained, movement through relative space had to happen.
"You lose", he murmured with cold satisfaction and closed his eyes. He only wished to open them again to see the stars of clear, beautiful outer space. Outside, a buzzing, crackling sound could be heard as the air surrounding the vessel experienced ionization. Sensing this, some of the Flies bolted loose from the main mass of their brothers who were still clinging with single-minded savagery to the hull. They fled madly through the darkly flashing, flickering woods, away from the ghastly scene of pelting Flies and the jerking, robotic men and thus saved themselves.
The State-Shift Drive Coils fully activated then and a torus-shaped inequality field displaced the air around the ship with the crack of a thousand gunshots. As the field snapped round and round like some awful bludgeon, the attacking mass of Flies became nothing but so much gray paste and Sanders and the rest were no more.
The large, vertically spinning ring of energy whirled faster and faster until a ball of blurred light encircled the gracefully poised vessel and a low frequency hum thrummed rhythmically through the soft soil of Brinnel's Bog.
Overlaying all was the sound of a hellish roar as the upper layer of the State-Shift Drive fed upon itself and reached peak efficiency. Each tremendous pulse of power then caused a localized earth-tremor with the vibrating ground rippling outward further and further. The very air seemed to tear away from the ship in its own form of pain, the trees all around the ship burst instantly into flames then shattered like glass from the awesome heat and vibrations.
The ship, now elevated one hundred feet overhead, melted the four transport trucks that had carried it into so much bubbling slag. Faraway peered down at the watch on his trembling wrist...it had stopped at 12 O’clock midnight. He estimated, amid the dull thrumming of the ship’s awesome envelope of power, that he would reach his destination by 12:30. Then he blacked out as the Earth vanished from view outside his portal and black space rushed in to fill the void. All else became silent, instantly.
And, for Elizabeth Faraway and her little son, Alex, time went by.
When Alex was two years old, a glow of soft light shone through his nursery window and awoke him one night as he lay in his crib above Rosie's Diner. As he turned to gaze out the window, he noticed the full moon floating there and although he did not know its name, he decided that it must be a daddy moon and that the other smaller one floating like a bubble beside it must be the baby moon.
Down, down, down it drifted, as gently as a feather. He knew a little about what a dad was because his mom talked about his dad sometimes, as she rocked him to sleep. He knew his father was a nice person, although he still hadn't seen him yet and he wondered why his mom cried a little after she talked about him. The crib shook slightly that night and startled Alex awake again. He looked out at the daddy moon and decided that the baby moon must be sleeping now because it wasn't there anymore.
Alex and his mom moved from above Rosie's to a big house that year, further out in the countryside but not too far away from the town. His mom still worked at the Diner but now she had to drive her car to get there, instead of just walking down the stairs from the room that they used to be in.
Alex was never anxious about his mom leaving though, because he knew she would be back at dinner time, and Miss Vee looked after him until she returned. Alex played in the many rooms of the big house and roamed about, exploring the big grassy yard as well.
Another child played with him sometimes too, although she had to go home before his mom got back so she never saw her. She was fun to play with and she had funny hair too; sometimes it popped out this way and that from under the hat she liked to wear and it made Alex laugh. She wore coveralls just like he did and played more like a boy too. That suited Alex just fine. He would say goodbye to her each day when Miss Vee walked her through the gate in the back fence and back to her house...wherever that was.
Alex had never been to the girl's house but he knew that it must be somewhere in the much bigger yard beyond the fence...in the, "scrapyard",as his mom called it. Alex soon felt brave enough to begin exploring that bigger yard beyond the fence as well. It seemed like a dusty, dirty place and at first that was all Alex did – play in the dirt. It was the best fun he’d ever had. There were hundreds and hundreds of rocks and pebbles to play with and throw against all the pieces of steel and iron lying around. In fact, the scraps of metal and wires in the scrapyard were scattered about in huge piles like mountains for as far as Alex could see.
His little friend loved to play in and among the scrap-piles too. They played hide-and-seek for hours at a time. One time his friend ran behind a pile and there was a quiet, whirr-rr...clank, and he didn't find her until the next day when she came back with Miss Vee.
While Alex was looking for her though, something else happened: he began to pick up and collect bits and pieces of very interesting junk that he hadn't really noticed till then. The more curious the things he collected, the more he wanted to know about them and in a flash, Alex Faraway knew what he wanted to be: an inventor! ...even though he did not know the word for it at that age.
Nevertheless, he knew that he wanted to put things together with the nuts and bolts he found scattered about and that twisted onto each other with those fascinating spiral shaped teeth that they had.
If he found one of each that were of the same size, during his wanderings, he discovered that when he turned the nut while holding it against the bolt, it started to move and lock itself onto the bolt. But they only held together if they were turned one way, not the other. He was absolutely mystified by how they worked together so perfectly and magically.
After that, his mom and old Miss Vee were continually cleaning old nuts and bolts out of his pockets; all of them locked tightly one on the other. It was the scrapyard that he wandered around in that made it possible, old Miss Vee's scrapyard. Alex loved it completely, it was a little boy’s dream come true, especially for a boy who was beginning to love playing with mechanical things.
When he was three years old, Alex began to put more interesting things together than just nuts and bolts. Sometimes it was only two or three small metal pieces that he found and collected while other things like old motors, pistons and propellers were a little more challenging.
By age five, Alex was doing far more than nuts and bolts, he was connecting a large electric motor to an old car battery after bolting both down to a large, square sheet of plywood. An on-off switch was correctly wired up to the battery and at the top end of the firmly fastened motor was a rather large, dangerous looking propeller.
Alex had been working so quietly all day on his marvelous new creation that neither Mrs. Faraway nor Miss Vee had any idea what was happening until they heard him begin screaming!
Running frantically out of the house and through the grassy backyard, Mrs. Faraway was horrified to find Alex sitting cross-legged on the plywood board as it bounced and jiggled about like an out-of-control amusement park ride!
Alex was crying frantically and clutching the viciously spinning motor for dear life, while barely an inch above his head spun the madly whirling propeller. Mrs. Faraway ran around it, screaming frantically, not knowing how she would be able to turn off the dangerous machine without being severely injured herself.
But then, from out of the backyard, walking tall and fearlessly, came old Miss Vee. Boldly she walked straight toward Alex, holding something small and silvery. Stretching out her hand she did something with the rod and a loud crackling sound filled the air!
Alex felt his hair stand on end for an instant then something in the electric motor sparked and popped and it stopped so suddenly that the whole contraption toppled over and sent little Alex tumbling onto the hard, dusty ground. For a brief moment afterward Mrs. Faraway froze in place, not believing the crisis had ended so suddenly. Alex sat up, rubbing the dirt out of his tear-stained eyes, and shaking his little mop of brown hair, trying to get the dust out. He was a little shook up but seemed none the worse for the experience. He didn't seem to realize how close he had come to grave injury.
Mrs. Faraway flashed Miss Vee a strange sort of frightened look then gathered her son up and rushed him into the house. She wished suddenly that they had never come to live there; that she had never agreed to move from the apartment over Rosie's Diner to live at Miss Vee's house after John had vanished. It was a warm, friendly home though and as Alex grew, Miss Vee was of great help as a nanny to him during the days when Elizabeth was away at work.
That night, as she tucked Alex into bed, Elizabeth asked her son why he had made so dangerous a machine and then tried to fly away on it. She had noticed that lately, her son had become a very quiet and serious little boy.
Being further out in the countryside, away from the main part of town, there were not as many neighbors nearby as there had been before. This had caused Alex to become a very solitary youngster since there weren't any boys his age to play with either. As Alex looked up at her now with those deep blue eyes, so seriously, Elizabeth saw a maturity growing in him that was too much for a boy his age. In answer to her question, Alex faced her and said,
"I was going to fly up to the sky to find daddy. Then I would bring him back home so you wouldn't be lonely anymore, and one day I will." Alex saw his moms eyes grow wide with wonder and then, very seriously, she asked him,
"Alex, where do you think daddy went?" Without hesitation, he pointed out and up to the darkness of the night sky.
"There", he said quietly, "right there". Mrs. Faraway followed where in the sky Alex was pointing. It was to a faint little reddish dot, barely visible through a thin summer night cloud. Mrs. Faraway wondered at that, but soon, as all grownups do, she forgot all about it.