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Chapters 1 - 7 can be read at: Deep Sky Stories & Illustrations
Chapter 8 (Part 1) - A Lazy Morning For A Change
Saturday morning dawned quietly, with a damp freshness in the air all around the farmhouse. The overgrown grasses and trees gave off wonderful odours of cool, rotting leaves. A new silence was upon the land, hailing the approaching colder months ahead. Alex had been awake for a short while and lay in quiet contemplation under his layers of warm, cozy old blankets. Downstairs in the kitchen, his mom hummed a quiet morning song to herself while she prepared breakfast by a dim kitchen light. Heavy, delicious aromas of bacon and eggs drifted up to the still-sleepy boy and made him smile contentedly.
"Mm...thanks mom", Alex whispered happily. He yawned and stretched in the luxurious stillness and began to think about all that had transpired during the previous week. Alex thought more about Miss Vee and what an unusual and dedicated woman she was to be able to plan and do all that she had accomplished over the past ten years; perhaps for even longer than that.
Alex had known her for so long as Miss Vee that he still thought of her as that instead of her true name - Teresa Marie Vasquez. She was a botanist, an astronaut and an adventurer, and now she was somewhere on Mars with Rainah and his father. Though she was now an old woman, she still had the vitality of someone half her age.
How she had come to be so old before her time remained a mystery to Alex. He would probably never know all the answers about her, but that was fine with him; whatever had happened to Miss Vee was her own private business. She was who she was now and that was the most important thing to Alex.
He owed his protection as well as many inspirations to her; Miss Vee was a far-seeing person who kept her gaze far into the future while maintaining the small forward steps that would lead others toward that possible future long after she was gone; a possible future of life on Mars.
A morning bird sang its simple notes to its mate in the thicket of blackberry bushes beyond his window, while woodland creatures in the small, overgrown backyard forest quietly made their way back to their humble dens to rest after a night of foraging.
Through Alex's window a cool, late autumn breeze blew, bringing all those small sounds with it. They were soft, normal morning sounds of rustling and faint twig-snaps.
Meanwhile, not more than a stone's throw away, even the slumbering Dragonfly within Alex's workshop barn had long since learned to filter out those slightnight-time sounds from those of the Others, the Flies, the crawling violet-eyed nightmares from Mars. Although the Flies were very advanced and cunning creatures, they had limited eye-sight and so, could not see through the thick foliage which concealed Alex's home. Miss Vee also knew about that weakness and had wisely encouraged the lush brambles, weeds, grasses and trees to grow protectively over and around Alex's farmhouse over several years.
Why the Others might be searching for him though Alex did not know for certain. Was it just him or was there more to the puzzle that he still didn't know about? He hadn't often considered such questions; perhaps it was his dreams during the last few nights that were causing him to ponder his situation more intently.
Those living machines, or whatever they were, had also searched long and patiently for Miss Vee's Martian Biosphere Ship. The obvious reason, of course, was that they wished to destroy the ancient Martian plant-life that she and Rainah were carefully nurturing under the vessel's protective dome. The slowly growing plants were from dried and frozen seeds found beneath the preserving sands of Mars several years before. If they destroyed the fledgling plants, then the Others would effectively destroy the remnants of the fragile Martian eco-system before it could ever take root again. Life on Mars would then truly be just a myth.
Rainah, his best friend, was an important link in a chain of events leading back through time; she was the last of her kind, a child of Martian Royal lineage from ten thousand years ago. She came from a distant time when Mars must have looked very different and alive. She also had a unique bond with the slowly growing plant-life within the artificial Mars Biosphere. With the same patience as Miss Vee, Rainah used her special ability - magnified by the power of her own Luss - to nurture the tiny, humble plants back to their full bloom in that Martian soil.
Many ages ago, Rainah witnessed the awful destruction that a rogue planet had wrought upon her beloved Homeworld. Now, however, a new change, a new ‘Super-Spring’ was approaching for Mars and would soon be heralded by the return of that same planet. The “Great Change", as Rainah had described it would then happen when her Homeworld's orbit was shifted by Planet X back to a closer orbit around the sun to allow friendlier seasons and warmer temperatures to prevail again. The plants would then be able to grow in their natural habitat, outside the biosphere and, hopefully, a freshly reborn Mars would blossom and bloom once more.
But what then, Alex thought as a new puzzle presented itself to his over-active mind. What about Rainah's people? Would there ever be anyone else who would survive and wake up from the Time Tombs to help Rainah rebuild? And what about that odd planet - that Planet X? If it truly was coming, Alex now hoped it would arrive very soon, for the sake of Mars and its people.
Alex suddenly remembered how he had experienced the dream, first from Halden's point of view and then from outside his body. His eyes widened and Alex shivered as he recalled how real the whole experience had been. But why? What was the reason for this connection between Halden and him which became stronger with each succeeding dream? In the dream, Halden and he had flown into a crystal clear tunnel then through to an alien landscape, just before he woke up; and there was something else there too, something horrible which had clung to the little craft they flew in. What was it? Alex shut his eyes, trying to bring back the fading bits of the dream, but it was no use.
The niggling thought returned to him though: was something out there looking for him? A renewed excitement came back to Alex and he sat up in bed, now fully awake and full of questions (some fearful), which danced about, tantalizing his mind. Miss Vee had thought the Flies might come looking for him - why else would she allow the lush overgrowth to conceal his home so thoroughly? Alex sensed that this and other questions must soon be fully answered before he could begin to comprehend the connections among them all.
Then, without knowing why, Alex glanced down at his pillow and was not surprised to see his Luss lying there again. Why was it, he wondered, that with each passing day and night, the connection between this strangely crafted device and him became closer and closer? It seemed to be that his Luss was becoming, not so much of a tool or weapon as it was becoming an extension of his mind and body. Alex shivered slightly at that thought, yet it wasn't altogether frightening, just...unusual.
"Alex, breakfast time, come and get it!" Mrs. Faraway called from downstairs. Alex snapped out of his pondering as the fresh smell of delicious pancakes pushed aside all other considerations.
"Okay, coming mom!" he called back as he searched for some reasonably clean clothes and began changing as quickly as he could. Mm-boy, mom's hotcakes, he thought as the sweet smell wafted upstairs from the kitchen. For the second day in a row, Alex was downstairs and sitting at his place at the table in a twinkling.
"Perfect timing, young man", Elizabeth said as she plunked a large plate in front of Alex with not two but three large yellow and brown heavenly, fluffy pancakes which were nearly as big around as the plate itself. Alex Faraway drooled up instantly at the sight of them.
"Oh mom, you're the best!" he sighed, giving her his biggest smile.
"That's what I like to hear", she said as she mussed up his messy bed-head hair. "Hey, your hair is really getting thick, young man, you'll need a hair-cut soon. Dig in and I'll make some more." Alex smothered the buttered cakes in dripping sweet corn syrup and began his breakfast feast with wide, greedy eyes and an impatiently growling stomach. There was no happier a boy in all of Delta-Town that morning, he was sure. After every few mouthfuls Alex washed down what was left with hearty gulps of orange juice, but he didn't pause for long, he was famished! The homemade treasures that his mom had magically concocted, in probably only five minutes, were gone in less than that with a last swish of juice.
"Ah...that was great mom, thanks", Alex sighed happily.
"Glad to hear that kiddo, do you want some more?"
A loud and contented belch was the only answer she needed. "Okay, I suppose that was enough then", Elizabeth laughed.
"M'bjor-Chaw", Alex said with a little laugh. Mrs. Faraway craned her head around to stare with concern at Alex.
"Pardon me?", she asked with a look between concern and indignation; she wasn't sure if Alex was swearing or if her ears were still waking up.
"I said excuse me", Alex said matter-of-factly.
"Oh...yes...bless you...I guess", she said with a confused shake of her head. "I must be getting old", Elizabeth muttered to herself as she sat down to eat her own breakfast.
After helping his mom clean up a bit, Alex ventured out once more to the old barn that housed the robots and all his prized inventions. There he examined Big Ben more closely to determine what repairs would be needed. His steel arms were definitely in need of major repairs as most of the hydraulic lines which controlled their movements were shredded and needed to be replaced. Ben's once powerful arms were limp and useless for the time being. In short, Ben had sounded like a steel bucket full of loose nuts and bolts when Alex drove him home the day before, and so, needed extensive repairs.
It was the software and computer chips in Ben's brain system through which worried Alex the most. The damage done inside the old robot's head could very likely be permanent and irreparable. Alex had no idea if there was anything left of Big Ben's identity, the very essence of his being after the horrible explosion he endured, that night over a week before. Nevertheless, Alex decided to try to repair and care for the old construction-bot as best as he was able to.
Alex worked hard on Ben that morning, tinkering and repairing and replacing the parts that were the easiest to fix first. He began with the diesel engine because it was not too badly damaged and only needed the retrieved parts put back into place, and a good tightening up all over. Without the power from the engine, the hydraulic pump for Ben's arms wouldn't work anyway. First things first, Alex figured. There would be time enough to worry about the more challenging repairs later. Surprisingly, the old diesel engine didn't take very long to slap back together and by lunchtime, Alex reckoned it was as ready again as it would ever be. The fuel lines and injectors were okay, some drive belts and coolant hoses were patched up or replaced, and the drive-train connections were all re-tightened to their proper specs. Fortunately, the engine block itself wasn't cracked or damaged in any way so that too only required some re-tightening. Alex stood up and stretched a kink out of his back from being bent over in the engine compartment for too long. He tossed a large, rusty hex wrench back in the toolbox beside him just as he heard his mom call the three magic words, "Alex, lunchtime!" Right on time - he felt famished, not to mention a little dizzy and light-headed. He leaned back against the workbench for a few seconds to steady himself till the vertigo passed. “Whoa, I have been working way too hard“, he said with a shake of his head.
"Coming mom!" he yelled back gratefully. Alex stood back one more time to admire his work so far; everything looked like it was back where it belonged again. "Okay, boy, I'll have you fixed up as good as new in no time", Alex said as he gave the big old robot a pat on one of his rusty iron fenders. He wiped his greasy hands with a rag and dropped it beside the toolbox before walking out of the barn, hungry and tired but happy.
He didn't even think to look back at the place in a certain corner of the shop where Dart the Dragonfly usually rested. In fact, Alex hadn't thought as much about the shiny, chrome Dragonfly as he had during those first days after they met the week before. As happens with all things, even favourite companions who are commonplace, they can easily be taken for granted after a time or even ignored.
So it was now between Alex and the sleek, dainty-legged Martian Dragonfly. Alex had been so happy to find Ben the day before and drive him back to the barn that all other things (and other robots) were forgotten in his mind. That morning, Alex had been so focused and intent on tinkering on his favourite old robot that Dart, the faithful Guardian, never once entered his thoughts. Yet, had he thought to look around for Dart that morning, Alex would not have found him anyway, for Dart, the Martian War-Dragon had left the shelter of the old barn long before Alex even rolled out of bed. If the boy had known what befell his friend afterward though, he would most certainly have taken more notice.
Next: Chapter 8 (Part 2) - A New Doctor In Town
A new morning and a new doctor has arrived in Delta-Town; a happy, always smiling doctor! There's nothing wrong with a doctor who always smiles - Is there? And what of Dart the Dragonfly? If trouble doesn't find Dart, then the Martian War-Dragon will always. Find. It!
As of 2017-10-31, Chapter 8 (Part 1) can be read at: Deepskystories.com