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Chapter 12 (Part 3): Finders Keepers and a Simple Plan
The little snub-nosed electric taxi pulled up in front of the Faraways' house half an hour later and Alex hopped out as soon as the robot car popped its window open and raised the two passenger seats high enough for them to climb out. After wishing the two of them a good night, and waiting an appropriate amount of time for them to enter their house, the polite little car sped away into the night to take another call.
Dinner was a simple meal of potatoes, rice, and peas, with a surprise apple pie dessert from Rosie's. Elizabeth was still feeling very tired from the over-night stay at the hospital, but Alex was fidgety and very impatient. You've had a nice restful stay at the hospital, I see, Elizabeth thought, ruefully. Washing the dishes was a rather noisy event with Alex jumping from one foot to the other with youthful impatience, then all but snatching each plate from her hand as she handed it to him. Clatter. Crash. Clatter, crashed each dish as he gave them a quick wipe then tossed them carelessly here and there into whichever free space he could find.
"Alex, what in the world are you doing," Elizabeth cried as he started clattering a handful of dripping knives and forks into one of the glasses in the cupboard. Alex paused in the midst of his record-breaking dish-drying and looked with blank disinterest at the glass his mom was pointing at with a shaking finger.
"Oh," he grunted, ignorantly.
"Well...," Mrs. Faraway answered back. with barely suppressed indignation.
Looking side-long at the gathering storm that was his mother, the impatient boy decided that caution was the best approach for the moment. Gathering up the still dripping utensils, Alex decided to finish the rest of the dishes at a slower pace. He wiped each piece carefully and put them gently into their proper trays in the drawer.
"Much better, thanks," Elizabeth said, after everything was finished. "It's been a long day, Alex," she said, "I think we should get to bed early tonight."
"Okay", Alex said with amazing cooperation. What? No whining, no complaining, Elizabeth thought suspiciously. Oh well, I'm too tired to figure him out right now.
"Up to bed, young man," she ordered after a tired hug and kiss on the forehead.
"Okay," her young man replied happily. She gave Alex a last long look of suspicion then staggered off to the comfort of her own bedroom. "Something's up," Elizabeth groaned, wearily, "but it can wait 'til tomorrow, I'm sure." Poor Mrs. Faraway couldn't get to sleep soon enough.
Upstairs in his bedroom, Alex clicked on the lamp on his dresser and quietly went about preparing for the night's adventure. He gathered a few of his most necessary accouterments together on his father's old roll-top desk.
His old metal flashlight, an old candy bar (which had been in his top dresser drawer for nearly two months), a handy old pocket knife for almost any kind of emergency he could imagine, his Luss, which was always kept in a back pocket, and... something else.
"What's this," Alex wondered as he felt something like a large coin at the bottom of the one breast pocket of his coveralls. Unsnapping the flap of his pocket, Alex reached down, until he felt a small chain that was attached to the coin-shape. He pulled the chain out of the pocket and was pleasantly surprised to see a round silver object come out with it.
"My locket," he exclaimed with delight. It was the silver locket that his friend, Rainah Onyahee, had given him. His father had given the locket to Rainah, when she was a little girl, before she left Mars with Miss Vee. Rainah in turn, passed the locket on to Alex during the night that she left him to return to her Homeworld once more. Alex found a certain connection with his father then that was made all the more special because the locket was given to him by his best friend.
Alex felt for the tiny button on the side of the locket. When he found it, he gave it a hard push and the two halves of the clam-shell locket sprung wide open. Under the lamplight, Alex caught a glimpse of something like a silver coin slip out from where it had been held inside the locket. Whatever it was, fell to the floor and rattled about briefly before coming to rest at Alex's feet. That was odd, he couldn't recall putting anything inside it.
Placing the locket on top of his dresser, Alex bent down and picked up the curious-looking silver piece. As he did so, he couldn't help thinking that he had done the same sort of thing once before. "Where have I seen this before," Alex wondered aloud. There was a strong sense of deja-vu that he felt about the whole moment. "Wow," he whispered with delight, turning the large, silvery coin over and over in his hand.
Bringing it under the light of his lamp though, he soon realized that it was like no coin he had ever seen before. It was silver like a dollar coin, but after that, its differences became very apparent to him.
The disc was completely blank on one side, having a smooth, brushed metal appearance. There was an odd liquid feel to it that Alex noticed, as he rubbed his thumb on that side. It almost felt as though he could sink his thumb into the coin itself if he pressed hard enough. Another strange aspect the little disc had was a difference in temperatures. The smooth side became as warm instantly at the touch of his hand while the other side remained cool longer.
The silver piece seemed to be made from two very different materials with one that was more conductive than the other. Turning it over to look closely at the cooler, less conductive side, Alex saw an embossed pinwheel design which had been engraved onto it. As he rubbed the medallion with his finger, he could feel the raised lines and circles of the unusual emblem that it had.
The design began at the center of the coin with a single, raised dot and then a small circle with a few more dots arranged evenly around it and joined to the center dot by fine, thin lines.
Another group of the evenly spaced, braille-dots on a wider circle surrounded that first inner group as well. More circles with more dots radiated outward likewise, with the last group containing the most dots touching the outer rim of the medallion.
Joining all the circles and dots, one to another, were fine spider-web lines that conjoined everything in an intricate, pinwheel pattern. The raised pattern of circles within circles and their interconnecting lines had been crafted on the face of the silver piece in perfect measure and symmetry and Alex turned it over and over, mystified.
"Now, how did I get this," he wondered out loud. Someone had taken great care to design the coin just so, and made it with two very different kinds of metal as well—but why? Alex shrugged and grunted, bemused and puzzled by the intricate pattern of circles within circles which were so very distracting and vaguely familiar. Familiar, not because he’d seen it as much as he could swear that he’d felt it—picked it up before, somewhere.
“Finders keepers," he said with happy matter-of-fact before placing the silver medallion carefully on his dresser beside the locket. He gave it a last curious look then turned to leave to begin his search for Big Ben. Alex had to figure out a way of sneaking out of the house as quietly as possible. Obviously, he couldn't just walk out the front door and into the dark of night; his mom simply wouldn't allow it.
She wouldn't allow it because she would worry too much, the way parents always did. Parents must have it pretty tough, Alex thought idly, they don't have any adventure left in their lives. If he had stopped to think about it though, Alex would probably have realized that a parent's adventure is their child that they spend so much time worrying about in the first place. Being an adventurous boy though, what else could be expected of him?
So it was that, ten minutes later, after waiting quietly for his mom to settle down to her own peaceful sleep, Alex slid his bedroom window slowly open and crawled out onto the sill. Since his whole yard was a wildly growing thicket of overgrown bushes, vines and trees, it is not difficult to imagine one of those trees growing near his house as well. That was exactly the situation of an old, gnarled and moss-encrusted cherry tree whose crooked branches grew so close that they often tapped loudly against the house on windy autumn nights.
As the storm's wind was blowing quite hard by this time, the branches were indeed brushing up against the farm house with forceful thumps and scratching taps. The old house shuddered slightly and Alex's bedroom window vibrated from one such heavy branch that rubbed against the house, just below the sill. Easing himself carefully down onto the branch, Alex crawled along it until he reached the trunk and was able to swing down to the ground.
He landed easily in the soft, scruffy, wild grass and made his way to the back of the yard where the old apple tree stood guard. It was missing several of its uppermost branches and their stumps still gleamed clearly in the moonlight where they had been broken a week earlier. They were a reminder to the boy of the first night he'd encountered Dart the Dragonfly. The remains of the severed branches still littered the thickly overgrown yard and added to the unkempt woodland appearance of the place.
It had been a safe and cozy hiding place for Alex when he was small, but the time for hiding had passed on the night that Alex encountered Dart the Dragonfly; the night his life changed forever. Alex ran passed the tree and through the broken down gate in the back fence. The scrapyard lay hidden in shadows just beyond the fence and the old barn stood off to Alex's right. No sign of movement came from within the barn.
Switching on his flashlight, Alex walked toward the barn door to make certain what his mom had said was true. Sure enough, when he walked inside, it was obvious from the large empty space at the far end that old Ben, the construction-bot was gone. What Alex was not counting on was that Legs, the smaller scavenger-bot, was also missing from his spot which was usually right beside his giant companion.
"Oh, Legs, where did you wander off to now, you silly robot," Alex muttered to the dark, empty corner.
Walking over to the spot where the robots should have been, he shone his flashlight around and noticed the ladder he had used, lying on the floor where it fell the night before. It clearly had been pushed out of the way by Big Ben before he left the barn. Then Alex noticed something intriguing at the place on the floor where he must have fallen. It was the place where the ladder had been when he was wiping the soot and dirt off the old robot.
There was a deep, white scratch in the cement floor, which shone brightly against the usual dirt and oil stains. Looking curiously at the long scratch mark, Alex tried to recall exactly what had happened that night. He remembered how weak he'd felt as it became harder and harder to breath; then he fell but he couldn't recall hitting the floor. But if I did hit the floor, I would really be hurt badly, he thought, did something catch me? Did Big Ben catch me, Alex suddenly wondered as that strange conclusion came to mind. How could he though if the robot seemed to have been quite brain-dead? But the evidence was clear now that, somehow the old giant had re-awakened and had done so just in time to catch Alex as he fell.
Alex shook his head with amazement. He never knew the old machine was as tough or as smart as it seemed he actually was. Where was he now though and, for that matter, where was Legs? Training the flashlight on the floor, Alex decided to get on with the rest of his simple plan.
Walking out to the threshold of the barn door, he looked carefully for the fresh tread marks that would have been left by the mammoth sized robot as it drove outside. Sure enough, the deep tire marks in the soft soil left no doubt that Ben was on the move and they clearly showed the old machine's direction of travel: into the scrapyard.
Oddly, there were older tracks under the new ones, heading toward the road running passed his house as well. This indicated that Ben had been following or chasing somebody beforehand. He knew this because of a pair of shoe prints in the mud, which were the size of a grown man. There were traces of phosphorescent green glop, which were splashed here and there and glowed in the dark as well.
Walking back to the newer tracks at the workshop doorway, Alex found yet another surprise. He noticed the round foot-pad prints of the spokey, long legs of Legs, the smaller scavenger-bot, which marked a parallel path in the same direction as Big Ben.
"Okay, now I really have to find out what you two are up to," he said, as he set out in the direction of the dark scrapyard.The gusting wind moaned low and sighed coolly, as it blew through the open barn door and Alex pulled up the collar of his coat against the wintry weather. October was drawing to a close and the nights were becoming colder and longer in the countryside all around. It wouldn't be very long before the winter rains came, then the first snowfall. Alex looked back once more at the softly glowing little yellow back-porch light of his home then turned away again before he changed his mind. The darkness engulfed him quickly, and he was gone.
Next: Chapter 12 - Part 4 - The Menace Found...
Alex sets out to uncover clues to find his two wayward robots, but the night shadows soon grow long and sharp from a mysterious glow in the scrapyard, which grows brighter with each step the boy takes. And there is now no turning back for Alex Faraway.
As of 2019-07-23, Chapter 12 (Part 3) can be read at: Deepskystories.com