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Alex The Inventor - Chapter 4

The Ghosts in the Glass Tunnels

Book 2 - The Ghosts in the Glass Tunnels

Chapters 1 to 3 can be read at:  Deep Sky Stories

Chapter 4 (Part 1) - Probably Wasn't A Good Idea

Alex Faraway's grade seven teacher, Mister Chater, worried. He worried about many things that could happen or might happen, almost every day. It was, perhaps, a symptom of being an over-ambitious person who, despite all his efforts to get ahead through the years, had only managed to land work as an elementary school teacher, and had become stuck in the same place far too long.

Worse still, the school was small and dingy and out in the middle of a dirt-farming community that no one seemed to care about, one way or the other.

"Delta?... where on Earth might that be?" would be the chuckled question from a colleague now and then, if poor Wallace ever attended a teacher's convention.

The problem was that there just wasn't enough to do for an ambitious yet underachieving man in such a small, backwater town as that which he now found himself.

As a result, Wallace Chater wasted much of his agitated energy worrying, and what he had found most recently to worry about was young Alexander Faraway, the boy who lived on the outskirts of Delta-Town, by an old, abandoned junkyard and was clearly exceptionally gifted.

Wallace could tell by now, from what he had seen Alex do during class, every day of the school year, that he was very bright. He had, only the previous Thursday, impressed Mr. Chater with his remarkable ability to draw the other children into his fascinating world of creative inventions.

That day, when Alex spent an entire hour covering all the blackboards with his wondrous technical drawings, had been nothing short of astounding! There were still some students who wanted a repeat of that day too.

But then, the strange behavior had occurred the following day when Alex took a rather difficult exam and finished nearly all of it in a blur — in less than ten minutes. On top of it all was the bizarre manner in which he had zipped through it, scribbling wildly — and then, of course he also drew that picture; an unnaturally accurate topographical map of Valles Marineris, the great rift valley on Mars.

And then...and then had come the night Wallace Chater would never forget. He shivered even now, despite the warmth coming from the fireplace in his small study. It was well past midnight and Friday morning would be dawning soon enough.

"I really must get to bed", Wallace chided himself and tried, with little success, to push aside the memories of the past week. He was reviewing class assignments for the following week...and hoping to receive a call back from an old acquaintance.

Wallace tapped his pencil nervously against the edge of his desk amid the stuffy silence in the little room. The faded oak desk he worked at was covered with several stacks of upcoming projects as well as previous homework which still needed marking.

But all those carefully stacked and indexed papers and workbooks now seemed to have diminished in importance when laid beside the disturbing mystery that young Alex Faraway had handed him. The quiet boy with the hyper-keen mind and unusual activities clearly needed to be investigated much more closely. There were odd — even dangerous events occurring at that dirty old junkyard nearby Mrs. Faraway's house — he was sure.

There was no telling how many of those hideous insect creatures were still hidden amongst the mounds of garbage in that old corn field. He realized now that it couldn't have been entirely the boy's fault though, because...well, Mr. Chater knew something else; and, he knew someone else too.

Abruptly, his cell-phone chimed quietly in the stillness, causing Wallace to stiffen slightly with expectation. Small, triangular LC3-D screens slid up out of the three-sided phone until they formed a translucent, triangular box with their points meeting at the top.

A soft glow from a tiny LED laser within the phone projected data onto the three screens from their inner, central focal point and a small, holographically projected head formed before Wallace's eyes, floating in the air above the phone. Within a millisecond, the tiny camera in his own phone would have also performed the same graphical magic for the other man to see as well.

"Good evening, Wallace and to what do I owe the pleasure?", the other's head said in a rather stiff, formal greeting. "What can I do for you and what would you require from me after all these years?"

"Nice to see you as well, Harold", Mr. Chater answered with the same sarcasm hardly hidden in his own voice. He noticed that the man he had been trying to contact over the past few days looked rather more unshaven and disheveled since the last time they had met; the white lab coat that Harold wore appeared to have seen better days as well.

Research and development grants must have been getting few and far between for Dr. H. Strikt these days. He also seemed thinner in the face and paler than Wallace remembered. His dark, watery eyes shifted nervously above a scruffy shadow of dark, days-old beard stubble as well.

Strikt had an anxious, hunted look about him this night as his holograph head moved slightly with the cell phone Wallace held. His eyes shifted this way and that and he appeared to be a man teetering on the ragged edge of sanity after having done and seen one too many unnatural or unnerving things to cope with them all.

Perhaps, thought Mr. Chater, the more humble career he had fallen into as a small-town school teacher had not been quite so bad a choice after all. Harold, by contrast, was haggard and hurried and seemed to be trying to talk and multi-task his way through several mind-taxing events all at once while surrounded by five or six touch-screen computers.

As a result, he was quite fidgety and impatient toward Wallace, talking with a hard and abrupt manner as though he would cut short their call at any moment. Ah, the wondrous age of multi-tasking…

But, Dr. Strikt ceased what he was doing rather suddenly when Mr. Chater said, "Wallace, this may sound odd to you but I need some help in solving a mystery and you're the only person I could think of who has the proper expertise."

Now, Harold and Wallace had never gotten along very well in the past - most likely because Harold had achieved much more academically than Wallace ever would. But the obvious flattery that Wallace gave him, as well as the mention of a mystery was enough to get the doctor's undivided attention.

"And just what exactly is the nature of your-ah, inquiry", he asked importantly. Before answering, Wallace touched the corner of his phone's screen to his own computer screen and the call was transferred to it so their discussion could continue more comfortably.

"The nature of my inquiry, as you call it, is in your email inbox as we speak. My question regarding it is two-fold. First, how accurate is the drawing I scanned and sent and second", and here Wallace paused and interlocked his fingers in a gesture of extra gravity.

"Second of all", he continued quietly, "now that I have your undivided attention, has there ever been any recent news reports regarding those nasty little robots you folks at Deepsky Aerospace found a few years ago?"

"You know...the ones on Mars?"

Harold Strikt gave a noticeable start on hearing the unusual question. He appeared flustered and taken off guard so Wallace Chater pressed on. "Look, Harold, you know as well as I that what gets aired on the evening news and what doesn't can be as different as apples and oranges, and we both know how forgetful the general public can be after - oh, I don't know, let's say...fifteen years.

Even a story as important as that one was can become lost among all the other new disasters and scandal stories, after a few years. Is it any wonder that nobody in ages has asked why Deep Sky suspended all further missions to Mars not long after those large black fly-things began popping up out of the red sand?”

Dr. Strikt had regained some semblance of composure again but nevertheless, there was a nervous quaver in his voice when he replied.

"That was years ago, Wallace, and that story, as wild as it seemed at the time — ah... became a non-event within a year or two. Those, Flies, as you call them, all began shutting down again, likely because of the severe winter sandstorms and sub-arctic temperatures. It was a brief and fantastical event at that time but, by now, they are all dead and buried under tons of drifting Martian sand. As for the suspension of further missions, that was due to — ah cut-backs in funding by investors and the government…in favor of more pressing issues of national security...the war on terrorism and all that…you know...", Harold finished, and his voice trailed off rather unconvincingly.

"Of course...I see", Wallace said in a bland, even tone which sounded just as unconvinced. “I happen to have a fairly long memory though, Harold, and I do remember what those supposedly dead creatures looked like from the newscasts when the images were first beamed back to Earth."

"So?" the lab-tech retorted with renewed impatience.

"So they're here, Harold", he said without further preamble.

"Who's here", the doctor replied, suddenly confused again.

"The robots! The things! The fly creatures...they are all here...on Earth, today!"

"Oh...I...I see", Harold Strikt simply said in a tightly constrained way, and a renewed anxiety crept into his voice. His eyes resumed their evasive, hunted look again as well and he busily avoided Wallace’s eyes for a few long moments.

"What-what do you mean, is — is that all you have to say — I…see?", Wallace finally blurted with astonishment. The doctor looked as if he was about to say something more but then checked himself at the last moment with an odd twitch of his head.

"I...that is...I mean, are you sure that's what you saw", he said with that same evasiveness.

"Yes, Harold, yes I'm positive." "I was nearly killed by one of them just last week!" Some sort of comprehension began to dawn on Dr. Strikt because he then asked Wallace a rather odd question.

"Wait...Wallace", he said, "where is it that you are living again?"

"Why...don't you remember...?" Now it was Mr. Chater's turn to be caught off guard. "It's...it's a small town...called Delta...didn't I mention it to you some time ago when I moved here?"

"Delta!" Harold Strikt half-whispered as full comprehension of something of great gravity took hold of him. "And where exactly did you ah...no never mind...I think...that is...I must be going now, Wally...thank you, thank you...we'll talk again...ah…"

"B-but, the email...will you be -?"

"Yes - yes - yes of course", Strikt interrupted hurriedly but he was already gathering up some documents and his long, white, wrinkled lab coat obstructed the computer's camera just before their connection went dead.

Wallace Chater, small-town school teacher, slumped back in his chair and swallowed a dry anxious lump in his throat. He suddenly had the unsettling feeling that he may have said too much and by doing so had accidentally set into motion some other chain of events that he probably shouldn't have.

Looking back on that very moment, a few days later, he would find that he had guessed very correctly.

Next: Chapter 4 (Part 2) - The Other Mind...

The Others are nothing if not crafty and insidious in their plot to invade Alex's world. Their eyes are everywhere...

As of 2017-09-09, Chapter 4 (Part 1) can be read at:  Deepskystories.com


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