Chapter 2 - A Little Something Out in the Night!
Seven years later...
The tinny whine of a mosquito woke Alex up. He was a light sleeper and always woke up at midnight. It was a mild night for October. Alex lay under his rather humble, patched blanket and gazed out his bedroom window, up at the clear starry sky. He patiently watched as the pinpoint stars drifted slowly along their arc through the blackness. One by one, and sometimes two-by-two, they vanished from his watchful eyes behind the window frame.
A tiny, reddish-orange dot that might have been Mars appeared in an upper corner and, as it floated by, Alex found his thoughts drifting away as well. Where was his dad, he wondered. He did that a lot when he woke up in the twilight hours, drifting lazily just above sleep. Alex wondered about many other things as well. He wondered if he had enough spare parts from the junkyard to finish building his second scavenger robot, or if his Gravity-Fractioner would actually work on its first test flight. He was somewhat nervous about that, but if his calculations were correct and if he was careful, he was quite sure the little machine would perform smoothly.
Then, of course there was the primary project. He was having more difficulty finding or making the proper parts for it but Alex was determined to keep following the old blueprints as closely as possible. It was the only way to ensure that the project didn't blow up when the flight button was pushed. He stared up at the dark, low ceiling with burning concentration as all his fantastic ideas and inventions came crowding in on his fertile young mind, clamoring for his undivided attention.
"Where is my father", he asked out loud to his dark little bedroom. His mom had only added to the mystery with the evasive answer that she did not really know, but that she only knew or felt, that he had gone somewhere for a good reason. Whenever she gave Alex this puzzling explanation, she didn't speak harshly but instead was hopeful that someday soon, her John would come home. Sometimes though, Alex noticed a few stray tears on her cheek.
Alex sighed, closed his eyes and let these thoughts fade into the background while his agile young mind began putting the pieces of his prize invention together in his head again, just to make certain that it would really work. That project, of course, had been his fathers as well. From where he lay, Alex could just barely see the rest of his attic bedroom bathed in the ghostly moonlight now becoming brighter as earth's friendly old satellite came quietly into view. Unlike the rest of the kids at his school, Alex had very few toys in his bedroom and unlike most of his peers, Alex had no curved 3D Immersive-Arc screen staring back at him impassively on a desk cluttered with Holo-Game chips and a Fiber-Op hook-up. In fact, if one were to take a brief tour of Alex's small darkened home, it would become immediately very clear that he and his mother were very poor, perhaps the poorest people in Delta-Town. But Alex had something magical: a boundless imagination and something else; something his father had left behind years ago. The dim forms of his bookshelf and desk could just be discerned from the rest of the shadows.
And within one of the drawers of that old roll-top desk a secret had lay hidden under a false bottom which he had discovered only by chance one day while tidying up his room. Even then, he could have easily overlooked it, so quickly was he intending to clean anything at all on such a warm summer day. But find the secret papers he did as the heavy drawer he pulled out too far fell with a bang onto the floor, causing a secret false bottom to fall open. A shocked Mrs. Faraway called from downstairs, and told him to please tidy up without giving her a headache.
"Yes mom...sorry", he replied absently as he stared with wonder at the treasure he had found.
Now, as Alex lay in the dark, that same giddy excitement came over him again as he replayed the change in his life which followed that remarkable discovery. The official-looking blue binder clearly marked TOP SECRET / Regarding D.I.I.V.E. Drive Project and the approaching Super Spring / For Dr. J. Faraway and Team / EYES ONLY! The weighty document revealed a larger world beyond little, ordinary Delta-Town, where secret lives were lived in the creation of a fantastic machine…and that his dad had been an important person in that project.
The documents and detailed plans told of a separate and totally covert space mission, code-named, "The D.I.I.V.E. Drive Project", which had as its goal a new manned space mission, not to the moon, but to another planet altogether. Where exactly was not revealed though. Why the secrecy and the need to explore some distant world was not made clear, but the whole tone of the musty old papers was that of extreme urgency. It was as if his father and his fellow scientists had staked their whole lives and pooled all their resources on a last chance to build a spaceship of their own design.
For what purpose Alex could only guess about on a warm, quiet night such as this. Even the last few hastily completed papers seemed more scrawled and scribbled together in controlled desperation. Old coffee stains spoke of tireless, around-the-clock work for days on end.
There was also something else written in the margin beside those frantic last words. It was something curious, frightening even; three words written in a bold, heavily penciled warning: BEWARE THE OTHERS! Each letter of that brief phrase had been written over several more times as though to make their erasure impossible. Of whom had his father been warning and for what reason? Who were the Others? Above all else, where was his father?
These were burning questions which had haunted Alex since then and drove him to work on his own in near isolation. There was nothing he wanted more in life than to find his dad, which was why, unlike the other kids at his school, Alex had no friends. He had no time for them. He was alone yet did not feel lonely because his work was his passion. Finding his father was the goal of his life.
As Alex quietly pondered those memories, from out of the darkness of the outside world, he heard a sound; it was not the small sound of the mosquito that had at first awakened him, nor was it like anything he could easily define. Alex was suddenly very wide awake as the sound came yet again. His eyes were wide now, staring straight up at the dark ceiling. All was quiet again...but such a quietness. A tense stillness had fallen over the thicket outside; even the breeze ceased blowing as though holding its breath. Alex didn't dare move. Was it fear that held him there, or fear of failing to hear the sound again? The strangeness of the night suddenly became very apparent; the world somehow seemed a little less normal and certain to him.
So keen was his concentration that, when he heard it once again, Alex sat bolt upright in bed. It was a faint metallic rustling sound followed by the harsh rasp of small, dry clock-work gears. Then in reply, from somewhere else in the darkness, Alex heard a quiet musical chiming note as though from a thin, alien breeze which blew weakly through wind-chimes from a very different world and time. However, there was a challenging tone to the chiming note which, though being gentle, left no doubt that there was quiet strength behind it as well.
That sound ended abruptly but the darker rasping continued from somewhere out in the shadows beyond the backyard. It even seemed to be drawing nearer to the house and Alex now climbed down out of his bed, wondering and curious. Walking over to the open window, he leaned out as far as he dared and peered through the autumn night and across the thicket that was his backyard. Overhead, brightly flashing falling stars briefly lit the clear night sky as they fell then vanished without a trace.
What was that he saw beyond the thicket of trees? He strained to see again a small reddish flicker of light no brighter than a weak candle flame. And the light was also moving. That made up his mind, he was going out to see that strange little thing for himself. Anything as weird and creepy as that definitely had to be investigated. Mystery awaited him just beyond the backyard fence. Quickly pulling his Coveralls on, Alex tip-toed to his bedroom door and was beginning to open it when he was taken by surprise by several sharp sounds, like Halloween firecrackers going off. A flash of bright blue light momentarily lit the darkness outside and made weird shadows dance about on his bedroom ceiling. Blackness closed in again immediately afterward, even as Alex spun round.
"Holy crap!", he cried excitedly and swung open his door in total bewilderment. Spots still danced before his eyes as he stumbled as quietly as he could down the dark stairway. Alex's house was a little like an old cottage in the woods because it was mostly hidden and covered by a lush, miniature forest of old, overgrown trees, vines and blackberry bushes. The old woman, Miss Vee who had rented the house to his mom, hadn't had the money or the desire either to keep Mother Nature from having her way with the backyard. Nothing had been trimmed back or pruned for many years, and so the house was nearly engulfed on every side by a rolling, tangled mass of all kinds of wild growth.
It seemed, in an odd way, that Miss Vee had quietly allowed her home to become a little natural hide-away from the rest of the world. Even the roof had a rich carpet of moss growing thickly over it so that an observer from the road or even from the air was hard put to see anything that resembled a house at all. Yet though the yard was a gardener’s worst nightmare, Alex delighted in it. He always found new hiding places under thickly tangled branches and brambles, crawling around in a concealed maze of pathways made by nature or the small animals living in there. He climbed and swung on the gnarled springy branches of an old mountain ash, an apple tree, and giant cherry tree which, besides providing juicy snacks all day in the summer, also provided him an easy climb up onto the mossy rooftop of his house.
The whole place was more than any boy could dream of. It was delicious in every way. But there was one last thing about his place which impressed Alex above even this: the junkyard, the large junkyard in the field, just beyond the backyard. And old Miss Vee had practically given it to his mom when she finally bought the house from her.
"Oh that old scrapyard”, she had chuckled quietly, “it's yours”, she said with a mischievous twinkle in her eye. His mom had been more than a bit speechless and Alex guessed that the look on her face had been well worth it for her. He loved old Miss Vee.
"It's like this, my dear, she had said, "when you get to be my age and have all you really need, the rest isn't so important anymore. "All I ask", she added, "is that you keep it the way it is." "Let the trees and vines continue to grow around the house always, so young Alex can play and hide in and among them." "And the scrapyard," she said with a slightly firmer tone of voice, “don’t disturb that either, please, "I've always noticed how much your boy likes it in there, so how could we deny him that?"
She was right, of course, while she was renting the place to his mom, old Miss Vee often baby-sat Alex and the little girl while Elizabeth was at work, and as he grew, Alex spent entire days wandering among the fascinating old piles of robots, machines and gears. He collected and examined motors, wires, magnets, and springs to name but a few fascinating things. Some pieces and devices were large and sturdy while others were small, intricate clock-works of mysterious origin.
He was intrigued and delighted all at once and his imagination grew in leaps and bounds whenever he thought of all the possible things he could create. A delightful yearning to know everything about all those wonderful gears, nuts, bolts and wired devices had overcome him. A whole world was opened to Alex when he played in the scrapyard. When he was younger, he would come running into the house some days all excited, showing off the silver bulb of an old vacuum tube to his mom and rattling off all the fantastic machines which he would soon be building. Mrs. Faraway smiled kindly at Alex, thinking he was just being a little kid with a big imagination. But that imagination was far more so than she could possibly have guessed.
Into The Night...
Now, just passed midnight, in the old darkened house, twelve year-old Alex Faraway scampered as quietly as possible down the creaky staircase to investigate what he had seen and heard only a few short minutes earlier. Through a narrow hallway and to the back door, off of the kitchen, Alex tip-toed. He stopped only long enough to slip on his gum-boots and jacket then he rummaged under the sink until he found an old battered flashlight.
Alex hoped his mom hadn't heard anything, the last thing he needed now was being sternly ordered back up to bed - that would be absolutely unbearable. The house was so silent that even the slightest noises seemed amplified beyond what they usually were and the clack of the latch or the sque-e-ack of the old rusty door made him wince with apprehension.
As he stepped outside, the soft, cold breeze blowing against his face was refreshing, carrying the fragrance of tall, damp grass and wild flowers nearing the end of their season. Alex became alert and aware of the night-world all around him; the sigh of the wind through the old apple tree at the far end of the backyard, the nearby chorus of crickets, endlessly calling to each other in the tall grasses. Now and then, Alex heard the quiet rustle of small creatures out hunting or foraging for food for the young ones in their own families. The faint rustling high up in a tree gave a hint of squirrels scampering about, maybe bringing up a fresh nuts to be stored away for the coming winter.
Then, there was another sound, faint but very, very strange: Humm-ping-ding-humm...ping...ping...ping-ding...zee. Alex stood alone on the back porch listening intently. Nothing more did he hear though. The junkyard was just beyond the apple tree which stood old and crooked in the soft, dark shadows beyond the cheery little porch light. It was toward this tree that Alex ran, keeping the flashlight off till he needed it. He knew the yard like the back of his hand by now and was not afraid of the dark shadows from the thicket of vines, tall grass and trees which surrounded the old farmhouse.
Alex was a very practical lad who, though never having been out so late, decided that whatever lay in the dark of night was nothing more than what could be found during the light of day. Half-way across the yard though, Alex heard a scuffling sound as of a stumble in the darkness and the bushes just off the path from him shook stiffly. He stopped short and peered uncertainly into the miniature jungle, off to his right; the deep thicket of mottled shadows, tangled brush and creeping vines. What was that pale shape, only a few steps away, fading as it backed away and slowly vanished into the vague shadows? Was that a face that he saw? Alex noticed as well, little lights, like fireflies, whirling about in the air just above the face - but only for a moment. The tiny sprites soon scattered and were carried off into the night on a puff of breeze.
"Hello...who's there", Alex called in a hoarse whisper for he still wished to creep up, unnoticed on whatever was just beyond the back fence. No one answered his challenge though. He stepped uncertainly to the side and would certainly have kept searching for the ghostly face had not that curious and tinny sound of movement beyond the apple tree drawn his attention back once more. Alex shook his head to clear away the strange night-vision and continued onward to the tree. Once there, he climbed up the old bare branches to get a better view of his scrapyard beyond. Alex felt a mild unease which he couldn't explain away to himself. He did see a face, he was almost positive. Nevertheless, Alex stared off into the darkness of the silent scrapyard and let his mind wander as the minutes passed.
Not everything was junk that he found in the scrapyard, as he discovered when he grew older and explored it. There was a treasure trove, full of unlimited ideas and things yet to be created. The scrapyard was actually an inventor's El Dorado. For, Alex was truly an inventor in his thoughts and in the mechanical creations that he made. He loved nothing better than tinkering with old clocks and springs and gears found lying about the house and yard. When he was younger, he even repaired old Miss Vee's radio before she moved away, much to her delight. When she turned it on and her favorite music was playing, she gave him a big warm hug which made Alex blush a bit.
Then, as she was about to leave, standing at the front door for one last look at the warm and comfortable old house, she reached into her rather deep canvas bag and beckoned Alex over. That ever-present mischievous twinkle was back in her eyes and she seemed aglow with affection and something else: mystery. As Alex watched, her old calloused hand came out of the satchel bag with...something. He couldn't describe it in any other way, for it was unlike anything he had ever laid eyes on before.
"This is a little something that I've been entrusted with for some time", she said, holding it out to him in a manner which left no doubt that she wished for him to have it. "I have never known why, exactly but I always had the feeling that this belonged to you, my dear." Alex held out his small hand and, without further ceremony, was given it. She leaned in closer though and added in a warm yet solemn voice, "I was only able to use it once." "Master it, use it with your heart and it will serve you well, I think".
It was a round, silvery, metal rod, about ten inches long, and looked like it was supposed to be a tool of some kind; except that there was nothing that he could see that could be done with it. The ends of the rod were also just plain and were rounded out to a perfectly smooth finish - that was all.
Yet, that was not quite all, because the rod had an odd feel to it when Alex first held it. Although it felt rather heavy and solid, like any other piece of metal would, it also had an unsettling, shifting texture to it. This stranger-than-normal feel to the touch caught Alex completely unaware and he accidentally dropped the rod.
It fell onto the hardwood floor and when it did so, the silvery rod rang out with a single clear and high musical note, much like a tuning fork would. That would have been surprising enough on its own but for the fact that the musical note lasted longer than normal and even grew louder as the rod slowly rolled toward Alex, as if somehow drawn to him. It came to rest with a light tap against Alex's left boot and with that, a weak jolt of some sort snapped mildly electric. Whatever it was tingled through Alex's small boot enough to tickle his toes and he giggled and jumped back in surprise. The shiny metal piece winked up at him for an instant, then dimmed and the high tuning-fork note abruptly ceased as well. In the sudden silence that followed, little Alex gazed down at the odd metal rod with a slightly curious and puzzled expression. Miss Vee wasn't sure what to make of it either but anyone else in the room at that moment would have noticed a slight twinkle of...something in her eye; premonition perhaps...
Now, as Alex stood upon a high branch in the apple tree, concealed in the fade of the shadows and looked out toward the darkness beyond, he idly rolled that same cool, silvery rod in his free hand. He had started taking it everywhere with him because, after receiving it from Miss Vee, he was never told what to do with it or if it had any usefulness. She seemed to think there was something valuable about it though but she either forgot to or didn't wish to tell him anything more before she left.
Alex remembered seeing her only one other time shortly thereafter. Strangely, it wasn't at the house that he saw her but in the scrapyard. She seemed to appear from nowhere one day as he was collecting some small electric motors and gears from a particularly interesting looking scrap-pile. He heard an odd whirring sound behind him and when he turned round, there she was. She looked quite different though, because instead of the floral, yellow dress he had last seen her in, she was now wearing jeans, brown leather jacket, and rugged hiking boots. She stood tall and looked like she had just come fresh from a long, exciting journey because she had a healthy, windblown look about her and the old twinkle in her eyes seemed somehow rejuvenated, younger.
"Well young man, she said, have you been tinkering and experimenting like I imagined you would be?"
"Yes, I have, come and see", Alex replied, and without any further words he took her hand and led her to the old barn standing against the fence which separated the backyard of his home; from the scrapyard. For half an hour or more, Alex showed off his handmade inventions. Some were interesting looking but didn't do much, others spun gears and made unique noises, but still didn't do anything useful. At the end of it all, old Miss Vee sat down beside Alex and rubbed her chin thoughtfully as though she was trying to find the right words to say something difficult to him.
"Alex", she said finally, "everyone and everything in this world around us exists for a purpose or a reason, sometimes we don't even know the reason at first.” “That can only be revealed with the passage of time." "All creatures too, live to fulfill a purpose, even if it is only to love and protect their own kind until they pass away." "What do you want to accomplish in your life, Alex", she asked.
"I want to take things apart to see what makes them work and build new things", he said.
"And, she said, looking directly at him, what do you want all your new things to accomplish?"
"Well....", he began, looking at each gadget and gizmo with a new thoughtfulness, “I guess they don't accomplish anything right now."
"That", said old Miss Vee with a cheerful smile and tapping him on his head, "is what you have to change about how you build your inventions, they have to be made with a purpose in mind." "All things, even invented things have to come into our world with a purpose."
She then continued with an odd tone of voice, "Most things are made for a good and helpful purpose, but there are also some creatures and things which are brought into our world for the wrong reasons." "Sometimes we don't see anything wrong with them and assume that they are also made to be good and helpful." "Only with the passage of time can their true purpose be revealed, and when these few are revealed by their actions to be bad things, then they must be fought and defeated."
"What things", Alex asked after seeing the strangely serious change which had come over her.
"What - oh, nothing, nothing", she replied distractedly. "…time for me to go, Alex." And so, with a cheerful pat on his head and a farewell, she left the workshop and began walking back toward the scrapyard.
"Do you know where my daddy is", he asked suddenly, though he didn't know why. Miss Vee stumbled a little on something then stopped and turned round to face him. There was a sorrowful, heavy look on her face and she opened her mouth, as if she was about to say something. It was right on the tip of her tongue...but instead she said in a slightly shaking voice, "Time for me to go, Alex...goodbye." Miss Vee turned back toward the scrapyard again, not toward the main road, where Alex had assumed she had parked her car.
"Um, the road is back this way, in front of my house", he said politely, thinking she may have been confused.
"Oh, I know which way I'm going", she answered back in a curious tone. "You'll soon have to know which way as well", she added with a little smile returning to her face. "Goodbye, Alex", she said kindly, waving a last farewell. Alex had just turned away to head back to his house for lunch when he again heard a faint whirring sound. Turning quickly, he thought he saw something happening in the scrapyard. Had something moved in there or was it only the sun's rays flickering off steel and glass? What really happened though was that the old woman was no longer there. And the small, mysterious rod he was holding suddenly became warmer for a few moments; or was it only the hot sun shining on metal that made it so warm and appear to glow softly?
Without warning, something clanked loudly amongst the countless shadowy iron shapes and gears beyond the backyard and interrupted Alex's midnight recollections. Quiet as a mouse, he climbed up the gently curving branches of the old apple tree. The darkness away from the porch light was much thicker and his eyes were not yet adjusted to it, so that what he thought he saw at first was two reddish, glowing fireflies, drifting through the air below him, keeping side-by-side, in perfect time with each other. After several moments of staring down from his perch however, an astonishing new form began to materialize from the thick, shifting shadows.
But what Alex finally saw, he could not believe. He shut his eyes tightly and shook his head thinking that the vaporous illusions of midnight shapes and shadows were befuddling his vision again. Suddenly, remembering the flashlight he'd brought along, he quickly retrieved it from his jacket pocket and switched it on. The rather dim, yellow light illuminated the inky blackness and Alex again gazed down at the same spot where the two faint, red globes moved and this time, he caught himself as he very nearly fell out of the tree with shock. He gasped as his senses tried hard to accept that what was crawling and jiggling on dainty, dancing spidery legs over and around the shadowy springs, wires, and scrap- metal, was actually something real. His heart pounding with excitement, Alex slowly crouched down on the branch, not daring to trust his balance at that moment. What happened next, he could never, ever have imagined!