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Chapters 1 - 11 can be read at: Deep Sky Stories & Illustrations
Chapter 11 (Part 2) - In Deep Trouble
Sunday passed slowly for Dart the Dragonfly, lying as still as death at the bottom of the slowly sinking cargo trailer. Where was everybody, he wondered with a quizzical twist of his soccer-ball head. Night fell and still no one came. Could they have forgotten about him? With power loss now approaching a grave threshold, the Guardian reasoned that his situation was now grim. Therefore, Dart followed logical survival protocols and stepped down the rest of his dwindling resources to the bare minimum.
The flashing circuits within his delicate brain unit dimmed down to a faint gaslight flicker so that only the core of his cerebral remained active. The weak emergency beacon continued pinging, but only barely so. The Dragonfly clung to existence by a thin thread and lay as stiff and still as the smaller cadavers all around him. Just before sinking into the coma-like power-saver mode though, Dart sensed something ominous happening around him. Was that only the soft breeze sighing through the mouth of the cold metal cave he was trapped in... or did it sound more like a faint, dry chuckle of satisfaction?
Was there a rustling of dry autumn leaves near the cave mouth, or did something else begin to move musty, clicking little legs? Slowly. Delicately. The trap had been sprung well. The already narrow tunnel back to his world constricted further down toward nothingness and cold shadows closed closer round the snared Dragonfly, seeking to smoother him forever.
The night slowly eased into a new dawn. Monday morning eventually arrived for the children of Delta-Town and with it the inevitable walk or bus ride back to school. The teachers returned as well, in one's and two's, bringing their new assignments for each class and checking that the students had done their homework over the weekend. The morning flew by uneventfully and before they knew it, the recess bell clanged to let the fidgety children get outside and run off their energy.
Alone in his classroom, Wallace Chater looked up from the papers on his desk that he was staring blankly at as he heard a car thrum quietly by the school. It was only Sergeant Cash doing his daily patrols. The police officer was a familiar face around Delta and was often seen patrolling near the school during the mornings. It must be nice, thought Wallace, to get out on the road during your work day if the papers covering your desk start to make you go cross-eyed. The good sergeant must have seen Wallace looking enviously out the window at him on such a sunny autumn day for he gave the teacher a casual wave from the open car window. Wallace looked furtively back down at his stack of papers as a pang of guilty conscience suddenly touched him.
He now wished he hadn't contacted Harold Strikt on the previous Thursday night. There had been something intangible, something unsettling about the man and he dearly hoped that the information that he had given Harold would, somehow not bring him anywhere near Delta-Town. Even that Dr. Strikt woke up the next morning, had poo-poo’d the whole story about Alex Faraway's picture of Valles Marineris and the Martian robots and had gone on with his usual day. In short, Wallace hoped that Harold dismissed the whole discussion they'd had that night and forgot it ever happened. Yes-yes, that's probably what he did, Mr. Chater thought reassuringly to himself. He took a few deep breaths and looked back out the window.
It was deliciously quiet in his class for a few more minutes. The young students were all playing outside and taking in the recess and the fresh, bright morning. He remembered receiving a phone call from Elizabeth Faraway that same evening last Thursday, informing him that young Alex would be spending some extra time with her. Her tone was rather abrupt but Wallace supposed he couldn't really blame her. After all, his behavior the previous week at her house had been absolutely ghastly, he had to admit. Even if he was caught in the middle of such a terrifying situation that night, Wallace knew now that he should have controlled his fear much better than he did.
He rubbed his forehead guiltily as he recalled again, the awful things he had said about the boy. Alexander was a very bright student but, as well, Wallace knew that the boy was a caring and helpful youngster who would never have thought to hurt anyone. After having had more time to reflect about those terrible creatures, Wallace knew that they must have been the Martian insect-robots that the early Mars Rovers discovered several years ago. They looked too similar to be something that Alex could have made. But, by some unknown means, those same machines had finally made their way to Earth, and with unfriendly intentions, he was sure.
And so, Wallace made the brash decision to contact his old school-mate, Harold Strikt, to share the mystery with him. After all, didn't he have some connection with Mars exploration at one time? There was just something too strange about Harold's sudden interest in Delta-Town when the name was mentioned though. A second pang of conscience overcame Wallace and he abruptly turned from the window and walked about in the little classroom, nervously jingling some coins in his pocket.
"Just forget all about it... forget all about me too," he whispered to the empty air as he willed the fidgety white-coated scientist to dismiss all that they had discussed four nights before.
Mr. Chater jingled his pocket-coins more loudly now as he recalled sending a scan of Alex's hand-drawn map to the man as well. He grunted loudly with nervous frustration and stalked stiffly over to look out the window and perhaps forget all his worries for a minute or two. The children played away, making the innocent, care-free noises that only they could and that Wallace Chater had long since forgotten. Glancing past the school grounds to where Sergeant Cash sat in his police cruiser, Wallace noticed then that he seemed to be talking to someone who was hunched over the window on the other side of his car. The second person was hidden from clear view, on the other side of the car, but the officer was clearly giving him directions of some sort.
He was talking and pointing helpfully and nodding as if to say, "Yes, just keep following this road 'til you see Rosie's Diner.” (Which reminds me, I'm hungry…) "Then turn right or left and go wherever it is you're going, and no, I won't give you a lift there. Have a nice day, sir and keep walking"... (fake smile). Wallace chuckled with relief at the humor he had attached to Sgt. Cash and, with a sigh and a shake of his heard, turned back to face the classroom again. The end-of-recess bell rang right on schedule.
"Okay, back at it, kids," he said to the first few students who returned. Things will be alright, he mused to himself. Sometimes being alone with one's thoughts for too long made small worries seem greater than normal. Mr. Chater scratched his head irritably and got back to work. He noticed that Alex Faraway was away sick that morning. Mrs. Faraway had left a message... He was in the hospital. Probably it was just his tonsils or chicken pox or some such childhood ailment. Skwik-skwk-skwik, his marker wrote busily on the white board as he happily put the darker thoughts aside for the work he enjoyed doing.
Had he stayed at the window for a few seconds longer though, Wallace Chater would have seen officer Cash drive away, thus revealing the person to whom he had been giving directions. He would then have been incapable of continuing with his teaching day as usual for, across the street, staring directly at the school he would have seen the stick-straight figure of Doctor Strikt; or rather, Doctor Kirstt.
The man looked just as happy as ever too, with a big, wide toothy grin creasing his worn, tired face. He stood gazing silently at the school, perhaps even through the very window where Wallace had been standing just moments before. He was cleaner than the night before at least, though no less strained and spent from the long walk back into town.
After being chased away from the farm by the giant robot, Doctor Kirstt slunk back to the small hotel room he was staying in and had a brief rest. The dirt and mud on his white lab coat was washed off fairly well in the shower. But, of course, the creature which controlled him little cared if he was also in the shower with his coat still on. As a result, Doctor Kirstt looked clean enough but now he was rather damp and wrinkled and smelled like an old wet sock. The police officer who he spoke with, only minutes before, seemed to think so too because he wrinkled up his nose when Kirstt asked him where he could get a bite to eat.
"Rosie's Diner, just a few blocks that way," he replied, pointing vaguely down the road, "but if you want my advice doctor, you'll want to shower up first 'cause Rose won't let you in if you're smelling like an old wet dog."
The doctor only acted as normal as possible to allay the officer's suspicions, but now he sat on a park bench, not far from Alex's school, and waited... He waited like a statue till the 3 o'clock bell rang; then, he watched keenly as the children began filing out the front door. The doctor and the creature both knew instinctively what Alex Faraway would be like. For, it was not so much what the boy would look like now as much as what he would be like which would make him stand out from the other small humans.
The boy had possession of a Luss and that had changed him in a very distinct and special way, and would further change him the more he used it, especially in battle. For it was while in battle, when the power of a Luss was needed most sharply, that the change it wrought upon its handler was also the most remarkable. It was this change that Zin the Dreaded and all the Others knew of when they first began to invade Mars ten thousand years ago.
Though they could not see as well as you or I might and their vision was impaired by Earthly trees and foliage, the faint auras given off by all humanoids was very evident to the Flies. And it was that which Zin searched for as she looked through the eyes of Doctor Kirstt.
The minutes ticked by and more children left the school but, as time passed, Zin became more and more restless and impatient in her briefcase cocoon which lay on the ground beside the doctor. Where was the boy? Where was the golden aura? For, since the Faraway child was now a Luss-Handler, his surrounding aura should have changed from its normal coloration to that of brilliant, shocking gold.
A Martian who wielded a Luss was able to, with practice, influence its unique metallurgy purely by instinct or reaction to any attack. Zin knew that the plastic and vibrant alloy of a Luss could only be drawn from the thick and cooling lava of the Olympus Mons volcano. Only the Royals of Mars could influence the properties of a Luss once it was crafted for them. But, it was the Luss which derived its near-magical qualities from its Handler as well; the source of power that it tapped was its user's own faint electric body aura.
A Luss was able to draw from and multiply by a thousand-fold the energy from its user's aura, and in so doing, it eventually affected the aura's color and strength too. There were certain physical changes which could develop in its owner as well, and it was through this give-and-take relationship between the Royal owner and the Luss that both were transformed and empowered as time went by.
But, it was the golden aura in particular which Zin now searched for in the crowd of children without success.
((Where is the boy - where)), she niggled impatiently through the mind of Doctor Kirstt. Abruptly Zin forced the man-puppet back to his feet. ((Back to the Nest!)), she ordered and Kirstt stalked away stiffly on tired, crack-jointed legs. But this time, another man wandered after him as well, because to that other man, Doctor Harold Strikt was no stranger. And, as their steps led them further toward the edge of Delta-Town, there was an intensity in the older man's eyes which became more sharply focused as he slowly drew nearer to the other.
Next: Chapter 11 (Part 3) - Zin Unpacked At Last!
Sergeant Jim Cash is on routine patrol when he comes upon a very strange event. But strangeness quickly turns into weird, horrific violence as an obscenely bulging briefcase bursts to reveal its wicked, yellow occupant!
As of 2018-05-14, Chapter 11 (Part 2) can be read at: Deepskystories.com