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Ebooks 1 & 2 (to date) can be read at: Deep Sky Stories & Illustrations
Chapter 12—Part 2—Clearly Something Different About The Boy
Alex awoke from his dream to the soft hissing of cool, dry oxygen, which gently flowed from the clear plastic mask covering his face. Blurry shapes and colors moving slowly by overhead came into view and Alex realized that he was still in a bed, was being rolled carefully down a hallway and that it was the ceiling with bright, florescent lights that flowed by above him.
There were quiet voices and subdued sounds all around him as well, and Alex could just recognize his mom, walking beside him while holding one of the shiny metal rails of his bed. He knew it was his mother by the sound of her voice, but there was a worried tone in it as well.
"Can you please tell me what's wrong with my son, doctor," she said as the bed stopped rolling and another woman joined them. The doctor spoke to Elizabeth with calm, quiet authority in her voice while now and then glancing at a tablet she carried to verify what several tests indicated about Alex.
"I think your son is over the worst of whatever it was that affected him, Mrs. Faraway," she said with still a bit of concern as she recalled how ill Alex was when he first arrived at the hospital. The poor boy was barely breathing and was as pale as death. "Has Alex ever had a lung infection like pneumonia or perhaps any form of asthma?" she asked with a little puzzlement in her voice.
"N-no not at all... why... what did the tests show?" The doctor looked almost apologetic as she continued.
"Well... actually, all the tests did was show me what a healthy boy your son is. There were no signs of any head injury from the fall you thought he had, nor are there indications of infection, allergic reaction, or anything blocking his airway. The only thing out of the ordinary is that your son's lungs seem to be growing at a slightly accelerated rate than is normal for his age. I'm not certain why that might be, but I can see no reason to be alarmed about it for the time being. I'm chalking that up to all the fresh air and good living you two have out there in the countryside. As far as I'm concerned," the doctor finished with a smile, "Alexander is an exceptionally fit young man who needs to come in for bedtime when his mother tells him to. He can go home with you after just a few more hours of observation," she said as she checked the level of the IV fluid in the small bag, which hung over his bed. Elizabeth was very relieved and finally began to relax a bit.
"Oh, thank God," she said with a nervous little laugh. "When I found him in the barn last night, he was lying on the cement floor and I thought he'd had a bad fall. I don't know what he was trying to do up on that stepladder, in the middle of the barn," she said with a shake of her head, "there was no reason to be on it because the area that he had it in was totally empty."
On hearing this, Alex's eyes popped wide open and he was immediately awake.
"Well, well there's the little dear," the doctor laughed as she saw how very awake Alex suddenly was.
"Now Alex, lie down," Elizabeth ordered with another laugh as Alex started trying to sit up in bed.
"W-wha-... -bout... Big Bed...?" he mumbled excitedly through the oxygen mask.
"What on Earth is he babbling about now?" Elizabeth chuckled happily as she gently held Alex down.
"I think he said Big Bed," the doctor chuckled with her.
"Yes, honey, it is a big bed, isn't it," Elizabeth replied with relief.
"No... n-dot... Big Bed, Bib-Beb, Bib-Beb," he yelled with mounting frustration.
"Now-now, you just calm down young man or Doctor Jessica will have to give you another shot in the rear end," she said, waggling a friendly finger at him.
Alex had to finally concede to their wishes so he flopped back down onto the pillow with a loud, “Ar-rgh!” But an expression of happy amazement still lit up his face as his mind raced to make sense of this sudden revelation.
Big Ben was alive!
But how could that be? And I didn't fall to the floor, he now recalled, something must have caught me! He couldn't fathom how, but Alex now knew that when he returned home, it would be to a workshop with one large, vacant space where a very large robot should be. So where did Ben go, and why?
An excited state of wonder took hold of Alex as he waited back in his room to be discharged from the hospital. Several fantastic reasons for the robot's disappearance came to mind but Alex discounted each until he realized something else that he hadn't considered yet: Where was Dart?
He remembered now that he hadn't once noticed the Dragonfly returning from the scrapyard since he had come back from there himself. That wasn't like Dart at all, he usually came back to the barn at about the same time that Alex was turning in for the day.
A very strange picture was beginning to emerge from the mystery now. Two robots disappearing, one after the other; one a Martian Dragonfly who was quite disobedient and prone to getting banged up and damaged from the odd battle or misadventure, the other an old battered and worn out construction bot who should have been braindead by now.
Whatever was going on would likely come to no good if it involved those two. Alex fussed about impatiently. "Mom."
"Oh, uh... yes, honey," Elizabeth answered from the comfortable chair where she had been napping.
"Mom, can we go home now... I feel fine... really, honestly," he fumed. Mrs. Faraway checked her watch. It was getting late.
"Okay, let me check with the doctor, I'll be right back, don't move!" she ordered, giving her fidgety son a quick glare as she left. Elizabeth walked back down the hallway leading to the nurse's station where she finally found an office door with a sign on it which read, Doctor Jessica Bradshaw—Pediatrician. The door to her office was half open and from within, Elizabeth heard what sounded like the doctor talking to herself.
"...clearly seems to be something very... different about the boy," Dr. Bradshaw was saying in a puzzled tone. "If this trend in Alex Faraway's metabolic growth continues, I can foresee an unusually higher than average lung capacity."
"Not only that," Jessica went on with a fascinated tone in her voice, "but the atmospheric properties that his lungs will be asked to metabolize will be far more diverse within the chemical spectrum than normal lungs are capable of. There's nothing physically obvious about the boy, at least not yet... but judging from the deep physio-cellular scans that were done, there seems to be something odd happening in his hormonal system.
There seems to be a remnant tissue there which I've never encountered before. It's almost like there is some foreign chromosome in the boy's body... but his body is accepting it anyway. And this tissue that has grown from the hormonal change—it's behaving like a disease which isn't a disease... This is very bizarre."
Mrs. Faraway quietly bit her tongue as she again heard the same sort of implied tone of the "unnatural" being directed toward her son. It's time to get to the bottom of all this, she thought bravely as she quietly pushed the door wide open and stepped inside the doctor's office.
"What is this you're saying about my Alex being bizarre," she asked Doctor Bradshaw pointedly. Jessica Bradshaw paused in mid-speech and caught her breath at Mrs. Faraway's sudden entrance. She was sitting at her desk, talking into her cell phone which she was held like a microphone.
A transparent, holographic screen that the phone was projecting, floated a few inches in front of her and the words that she was speaking, appeared as green luminous printed characters on the holo-screen. The screen switched off and vanished immediately and Jessica Bradshaw became red-faced, looking like someone caught with a secret.
"Mrs. Faraway… I hope I wasn't making Alex out to be a freak of some sort… and I apologize if that's the way I sounded," Jessica said nervously. "I was just trying to categorize your son's very unique condition because I'd like to do a few more tests so I can better understand his biology. I think your son is a very fascinating physical specimen who has some form of adaptability to a wider variety of environments occurring in him."
"Just put it all in plain English, doctor, if you please," Elizabeth said stiffly, not liking how her son was being "categorized" by the doctor. Doctor Bradshaw got up and paced back and forth for a few moments, trying to better organize her thoughts before explaining what she had discovered.
"Mrs. Faraway," she began, "Alex was born with what we in medicine would call a "throwback" or a remnant organ of sorts, from an ancestry which could be traced back hundreds, even thousands of years ago. This remnant organ is an extra adrenal gland... but it is also of a very foreign type, which I've never before seen.
Somehow, this remnant gland has been switched on and is becoming more active and dominant in Alex's hormonal system. In a nutshell, Mrs. Faraway, your son's body is slowly changing in such a way that it is preparing Alex for life in a completely foreign environment and atmosphere.
This very different gland is benign on its own, except that the changes it is causing could possibly be harmful to Alex if they continue. Now, whether your son can still maintain a normal, Earth-like metabolism as well, throughout these changes, is not yet certain."
"Wait a minute, doctor, do you mean to tell me that my son may soon not be able to breath properly," Elizabeth asked anxiously as her words began to sink in. For the first time in a while, Doctor Bradshaw paused and took a step back from her scientific excitement.
The impact of what she was telling Elizabeth suddenly became more clear to her and she felt sympathy for the woman. "Are you telling me, my son could even die," she finally asked with even more fear creeping into her voice. Jessica put a reassuring hand on Elizabeth's arm.
"Mrs. Faraway, this change in Alex's condition is still in it's very early stages," she said sympathetically. "I'm sure that with more tests and the right medications, the growth of this remnant organ can be brought under control—perhaps even reversed.
Alex's condition has stabilized for now and I'm sure he'll be well enough to go home today. Just keep an eye on him and if you notice him having breathing problems again, bring him back right away." Elizabeth took a long shaky breath and tried to calm herself.
"Things just can't get any worse," she sighed wearily.
Only 20 minutes was needed to release Alex and get him dressed to leave. Elizabeth watched her son closely during that time to reassure herself that she was making the right decision. Alex, for his part, was wide awake and ready to get back to his usual activities, which was a relief to see. I don't see anything wrong, she thought nervously, there's nothing wrong with Alex that a little fresh air can't cure. What a bunch of nonsense that doctor was talking.
They were out of the hospital by lunch time and since they were in the heart of Delta-Town, Mrs. Faraway decided to treat Alex and take him for a burger at Rosie's Diner on Main Street. Old Rosie greeted them with a loud cheer from where she stood behind her grill in the kitchen.
"Elizabeth, Alex, come in, come in my dears, what a lovely surprise!" She hollered gruffly, "I was just scraping the griddle, do you want a nice, big Cheesie, Alex," she called, referring to the cheese burgers that the whole town loved.
"Yes please, ma'am," Alex called back as he plunked himself down on a stool at the counter. Rosie's was the best place ever to Alex. He could still remember the delicious smells that used to waft up the stairs to the tiny apartment above the restaurant, where he lived as a toddler.
He could recall wandering down the stairs in his pajamas to say hello to all the customers each morning, like they were all members of his family. He even wanted to help Rosie in the kitchen sometimes, but she would shoo him out for fear he would be burned by the stove.
Rosie was an ageless, stout, old woman with curly, orange hair and age-spots on her beefy, strong arms. She was the master of her kitchen and always on the move, either flipping burger patties with each new customer's order or washing dirty dishes for the next table to be set.
All the while, she whistled a tune or sang at the top of her voice, which was often the reason why some customers ate and left in a hurry. Alex didn't mind though, Rosie's place was always full of life and fun and hard work, all wrapped up together.
"How is the little dear?" Rosie asked Elizabeth as she brought out a plate for each of them; burger and fries for Alex; burger and salad for Elizabeth.
"Much, much better, thanks Rose," she replied, though an expression of mild concern moved briefly across her face. Alex idly swung back and forth on his stool as he chowed down while only half-listening to the adults chat away.
Rosie's Big Cheesie was like heaven compared to the limp hospital food he had to eat in the morning. The day had started out being cloudy and unsettled, but now, as Alex sat there eating his lunch, the weather worsened even further. More dark storm clouds formed over Delta-Town, casting thicker, threatening shadows as they approached.
Here and there, small dust-devils briefly blew down Main Street, picking up and blowing about small dry leaves or scraps of paper. The day was steadily becoming more blustery and when a new customer dropped by for a bite, the little door chime would jingle louder than before.
"Looks like a storm is blowing in, Rosie," Jim Cash said as he entered the diner. Another man was coming in right behind the sergeant, but Rosie didn't notice him right away.
"Hello, Jim, would you like your usual?" Rosie asked, looking up from her conversation with Elizabeth.
"What's that—oh, sure, that'll be fine Rose, thanks," Jim said with a stumble in his voice. He looked their way for a few moments longer as he recognized Mrs. Faraway and Alex sitting with Rose.
"Oh, hello Elliot, I didn't see you there," Rose said with a warm and slightly nervous chuckle as she saw the old hobo following Jim inside. Old Rosie became suddenly very flustered and distracted as she cast another long look in Elliot's direction.
Picking up a ketchup-stained plate left by one of her customers, Rose began absently wiping it dry as though she was doing the dishes, all the while gazing after the handsome, old man. Elliot was not often seen inside Rosie's for the simple reason that he was often penniless or too dirty to be allowed inside by the fussy old matron.
This time, however, the old vagrant looked as though he'd just had a shower and was even wearing clean clothes. What was even more amazing was that Jim Cash was sharing company with Elliot as well.
Rose let out a long, blissful sigh as she gazed in Elliot's direction and continued wiping ketchup circles on the dirty plate. The two men nodded politely as they walked by the counter and took seats in a far corner booth. There they began a quiet discussion of their own.
"Rose... what are you doing?" Elizabeth finally asked after a minute of watching the old woman swirling ketchup circles. What was more, Rosie was ignoring her completely. "I should just as well be talking to that plate instead of you, Rose." Alex giggled as he imagined his mom discussing the weather with a dirty plate.
"That's nice, dear," Rose said dreamily as she cast yet another longing gaze in Elliot's direction. Elizabeth just rolled her eyes and sipped her coffee. Alex finished his burger and fries in no time and was soon growing impatient again to be on his way home. Elizabeth could sense her son's restlessness by the way he started swinging back and forth more and more on his stool. It was one of those irritating things that kids will always do to drive a parent nuts after a few minutes—especially when they are trying to talk to someone else.
Swing (squeak), swing (squik), swing (squeak), swing (squikky).
"Alex," Mrs. Faraway said with an attempt at parental patience, "please don't do that."
"That," she said, putting her hand on his swiveling shoulder to stop him.
"Oh, sorry." Two minutes went by as the women carried on with their conversation which was as boring as road noise to Alex. He gazed dull-eyed out the diner window, wondering when the slow-motion torture would end.
Then Alex swiveled his stool so that he had a look over at the two men sitting in the corner booth, also deep in some other non-fun, adult chatter. Swing (squeak)... odd that now and then, one of them looked over at him as well... swing (squik), swing (squeaky)-(squik)-
"Huh," he grunted. A hand held his swinging shoulder again as his mom stopped him dead in the middle of a squeak. "Oh... oh sorry, mom." Mrs. Faraway sighed with her usual exasperation.
"Well, I suppose we've stayed long enough, Rose," she said with an extra glare at her drooping, bored child. "You should see to Mr. Cash and Elliot anyway."
"Oh yes... Elliot," she sighed again warmly, with a dreamy tone in her voice.
Oh…that's it! Elizabeth thought as she got up impatiently.
"Oh—we're going," Alex said, springing to life once more.
"Oh yes, yes we are, Mr. Squeaky-pants," she muttered. Elizabeth paid Rose for their lunch and pushed open the old, glass door. The little door chime tinkled and jingled loudly as a strong gust of the afternoon wind blew hard against it. Mrs. Faraway had to push the door back against the wind to force it shut again.
"My goodness, I think there really is a storm coming, Alex," she said above the rushing breeze. Dust, litter, and leaves blew by them, and Alex had to half-close his eyes to keep the grit out. They walked slowly by the diner window, and as they came abreast of the two men sitting in the last booth, something very odd happened.
Alex heard a rushing-water sound that became louder and louder as though he was walking right down the middle of a river. It was the same sound that had been in his dream the night before and it startled him so much that he stopped dead in his tracks. Mrs. Faraway was walking ahead of Alex and so didn't notice the change in her son.
Looking around for the source of the noise that filled his ears, Alex suddenly saw Old Elliot staring at him curiously from the other side of the window. Looking back at him, Alex was taken by surprise by a voice coming from the man that was as clear as if he was speaking directly to him.
((Now, why are you looking at me, young fella? I guess I do look a bit scary with this shaggy beard. Hmm... maybe a smile and a wave will help.)) Elliot Jansen attempted a big, toothy smile and raised his hand in an awkward little wave.
All that accomplished, though, was to leave Alex completely stunned. His eyes popped wide open and his jaw dropped as he became more and more alarmed at what he was hearing. Like bad static on a radio channel that needed fine tuning, the loud, river noise abruptly cleared away and Alex found himself suddenly "locked on" to the old man's mind-voice.
By this time though, his mom was looking back and calling for him to hurry along with her. The odd exchange between Alex and Elliot also caused Sergeant Cash to turn and look out the window at him, wondering what all the staring was for. ((That's the young Faraway lad, Jim... I saw him and his mom just last night when I tracked Harold to their house.))
Alex could see the man's lips moving through the window, but his words were also as clear as though he was standing right next to him. Alex turned his attention on the policeman as well, and the same rushing sound startled him so much that he jumped back a step or two.
((Yes, that's definitely him, I recognized Mrs. Faraway because she works here as well)), said the sergeant clearly through the diner window.
"Alex, come on son, it's time to go," Elizabeth called for the second time. Alex was turning to catch up with his mom when the last words he heard made the hairs on the nape of his neck stand on end.
((He looks a lot like how I remember his father)), Old Elliot said as he gave Alex another friendly wave, ((we need to make sure that he and Mrs. Faraway aren't in anymore danger. If this map is anything as important as Harold said it is, then we've really got to watch out for them, Jim.))
Alex shuffled a few paces, then stumbled sideways, feeling overwhelmed by the instant revelations which were coming from the two men in the diner. The men were talking about him and his mom and dad, but all he knew now was that it wasn't their words that he had just heard but their thoughts!
What's happening to me, Alex thought as the rushing river sound filled his head again. He looked up from where he stood, leaning against a store window to see his mom walking back quickly, her face strained with concern. The sound was so loud now that Alex could only see his mom's lips moving as she leaned in close, trying to ask what was wrong.
It was indeed like switching in and out of channels for Alex because as he looked up at his mother, the noise subsided but Mrs. Faraway's thoughts flowed into him loud and clear.
((Alex... oh dear God, what's happening to him? Maybe the doctor was right, maybe we should go back for those tests she wanted to do.)) Alex shut his eyes tight as the static noise swished in his ears and drowned out his mom's thoughts. Several more random thoughts from passersby caught Alex off guard again and again in quick succession.
((...wonder what I should get for dinner tonight... maybe I'll text the kids and get some ideas from them...))
((...that darn cat... piddled on the fireplace and tore the curtain again... hm... maybe it's time to buy a large mutt to chase him around all day... that'll fix his wagon.))
((...dum-de-dum... doh-de-doh... doodally-doodally... dum-de-poo...))
"Stop it-stop it-stop it," Alex yelled out loud as he willed all the strangers' thoughts to stay out of his mind. Thirty long seconds passed, then gradually, the mind-voices and river noise faded away until Alex only heard normal, audible sounds again.
"...can you hear me, son? What's the matter?" his mom was asking in his ear as she held his shoulders anxiously. "Come on, we're going back to the hospital!"
"No—no, it's okay now, mom," Alex said as he steadied himself and felt the dizziness leave him at last. Elizabeth fussed over him for a minute or two longer, but Alex seemed to have fully recovered from what she thought was a dizzy spell. "I just got out of there, mom; I feel fine, really," he said with his fingers crossed behind his back.
There were a few moments when Alex thought he was about to hear more mind-voices again, but he was able to control his strange new ability by focusing on one thing, getting back home and finding Big Ben.
"Well, you acted as if you couldn't even hear me for a minute. Alex, are you sure you're okay?"
"Yes, I'm okay now, honest," he lied. Hesitant and uncertain, Mrs. Faraway finally gave in to her son's wishes and walked him carefully over to where several taxis that were hanging from a nearby Taxi-Tree.
The tower-like structure contained dozens of small, sleek, three-wheeled "Capsule Cars" that were autonomously driven and could carry a maximum of three people. The taxis were kept electrically charged by a large umbrella shaped canopy of solar cells which overhung the tower.
Thus, these innovative towers came to be called “Taxi-Trees” and were even given natural brown and green colour-blends to match their surroundings. After paying with a Debit ID card, Mrs. Faraway spoke into a small wire-mesh microphone in the tree trunk, asking that the taxi drive them home. Instantly matching her voice with the ID Card, the tower computer also matched Elizabeth's identity profile to the community address list in the town's data center.
With a quiet, pneumatic sigh, a selected Capsule Car detached from the tower's brown trunk and was slowly lowered down to Elizabeth and Alex by a gracefully curved and jointed mechanical branch. Three spindly-thin yet rugged wheels appeared from out of recesses in the car's egg-shaped body and clicked down into place as the mini commuter robot came to rest before them.
The nano-paint which had previously been an inconspicuous natural color, shifted to a highly visible lemon yellow. A single, nose light winked on as the little car came to life with only a whisper from its electric motor. Then, without needing further instructions, the windshield canopy of the Duraplastic vehicle popped open and the Faraways settled down into the two front seats. The gusting autumn wind was abruptly muted as the protective canopy closed around them and quieted the outside noises.
"Let's get some rest, dear," Elizabeth said as she settled her seat back and closed her eyes for the drive home. Alex pretended to sleep, but his mind was racing ahead, trying to figure out what could have happened to Big Ben, his favorite old robot.
Something unusual had happened the previous night in the workshop when he thought he was going to suffocate and fall off the ladder. Alex stirred restlessly beside his mom as he vainly tried to piece the puzzle together from his vague recollections.
The little yellow taxi quietly sped west down the main road leading out of Delta-Town, and then turned south. Before long, the smooth pavement gave way to the bumpy gravel of the rural road. The sleek Capsule Car took the change in terrain in its stride though. The flexible, all-terrain tires inflated and puffed outward slightly to adapt to the more rugged road it now hummed over.
As Alex gazed out the wrap-around bubble canopy at the dirt road ahead, he noticed all the tracks left by the farm vehicles and trucks that used the road that day. Whatever caused something in his mind to click, he wasn't sure, but Alex suddenly sat up in his seat, his eyes wide open.
"Of course, that's it," he cried as a big smile lit up his face. Mrs. Faraway jumped forward and nearly bumped her forehead on the overhead windshield canopy.
"What-what's it," she yelped with a start.
"Oh... oh, sorry, Mom," Alex said with the same happy smile still plastered on his face. Elizabeth sighed with quiet exasperation, then settled back down to finish her nap. Alex, on the other hand, remained wide awake and excited to get home. He couldn't wait to see if his plan to find Ben would really be as simple as he thought.
Next: Chapter 12 (Part 3)—Finders Keepers and a Simple Plan
Wide awake from his stay at Delta Hospital, Alex can't wait to put his plan in action. But how will he be able to sneak out of the house? What is even more intriguing though is the strange object that he finds in a curious place. But, there is something even more curious (and quite deadly) lurking in a pulsing, green glow, outside in the night.
As of 2019-07-17, Chapter 12 (Pt.2) can be read at: Deepskystories.com