Chapters 1 - 7 can be read at: Deep Sky Stories & Illustrations
Chapter 8 (Part 2)
That same morning, as the first dim rays of dawn shone faintly through the dirty, cracked window panes of the Cheery-Doze Motel, the eyes of the pale, thin man snapped instantly wide open again. Anyone who may have taken the slightest notice of this certain strangely wide-eyed and tooth-grinning man during the last twelve hours would quite likely have shuddered and walked past him with a much quicker step. His eyes would have drawn their attention and thus caused their fearful reaction, for the man's red-rimmed, watery eyes never once blinked. Wakefulness and sleep for the poor possessed stranger were now very mechanical functions for him; it may well have been that his times of being "switch off" were now the only hours of bliss that he would ever know again. Like small white stones being ground together, his teeth followed behind the grimacing grin that slowly stretched upward and disfigured his pasty white face. It was an over-happy, mechanical friendliness that now masked Harold Strikt and locked his mind within the prison cell created by the creature who controlled him.
"What...is...happen -", he began but that was all that the stronger mind within him would permit; he knew no more as his essence was again overpowered by the other being inhabiting his head. No more horrid an end can come to a person whose soul, whose only end-purpose in life is merely to serve and serve something monstrous without even realizing the awful fate that has befallen him. So it was with the bald, wide-eyed, grinning man as he stood up stiffly. His old joints cricked and snapped loudly in the small, quiet room as he assumed the same stick-straight posture as the day before. No yawning, no stretching did he do. He was an automaton preparing to move one foot forward to enable locomotion for the passenger within the briefcase.
Turning a half-turn to the left, the man-machine which at one time had a mind of its own took note of the briefcase on the floor. It too was standing stiff and straight in the center of the dark, dusty room. Its lid was shut tight and looked perfectly normal except for an over-stuffed appearance. It bulged out even more, if that was possible, and stranger still, there were cat-like scratch-marks all over the outside edges. The whole body of the case shivered now and then as well, making faint, dry-leafed rustling sounds. If, in the dim morning light, one was to peer down a little closer at the case, a person might also notice a mouldering greenish sticky substance oozing out here and there from between the lips of the tight clam-shell lid.
"Hrmm...hrum", something grumbled darkly from within the over-ripe, quivering case. The stickman bent down stiffly at the waist and obediently picked up the case. Stepping blindly, the ever-grinning man stepped neatly over something rather large lying on the dim floor in front of the door. Other than that, professor Strikt paid no more heed to it as though that first high step-over was something he normally did every morning. Had he but glanced behind him as he shut the door to the small, silent room though, he might have noticed a human body lying splayed out there upon the old musty carpet. For you see, Bob, the old, balding manager of the Cheery-Doze had now (and forever) thoroughly come to his own hum-drum end, taking on the old motel's namesake in a most permanent and ghastly manner.
Petty thievery was just one of Bob's many little past-times during his nightly prowls through the dusty, narrow hallways of the old motel. Unfortunately, the shady old criminal had rolled the dice once too often the night before just as the creature from the briefcase had returned from its own nightly errand. The sonorously snoring Professor Strikt had slept so deeply that he heard nothing whatsoever. No vicious buzzing, no shrieking, horrified screams, not even the last trembling gasps as Bob slumped to the floor twitching gravely.
The brightening glow of the rising sun would soon reveal disturbing, dark splattered stains on the walls and the carpet where none had been the day before but the strangely grinning man and his bulging, grumbling briefcase would have long since departed the Cheery-Doze. The police investigators would later note that the name of the sole occupant of that particular room had been so stiffly scrawled in the motel's ledger as to be quite unreadable.
Meanwhile, at a bus-stop farther down the highway, in Delta-Town, just across the street from Rosie's Diner, the same grinning man stepped down onto the sidewalk and at once "remembered" in his blinded, over-controlled mind that his name was now Doctor Kirstt, (Family Physician). He looked like a happy sort, with a big, wide grin creasing his face. Whenever he stopped to say hello to any of the town-folk, he would let it be known that he was a new doctor in the area and was interested in meeting everyone he possibly could. He also wanted to meet the local farmers and their families in the outlying countryside though and, after showing each one he met a rather official looking medical card, they were more than happy to share what they knew about the people living in those parts. The Smiths, the Jones, the Faraways; people of that sort who lived out on the fringes of the town.
"Sorry...the…Faraways", he innocently asked one gentleman, “that’s an odd name.”
"Oh, yes...rather unusual name isn't it, yes-yes, poor Mrs. Faraway and her boy, they live quite far out of town, near Brinnel's Bog and so forth. They live nearby a garbage dump too, can you imagine? Poor woman...her husband vanished without a trace not long after the boy was born, and if you ask me, there's been some odd goings-on happening in that area. Why, only last week, some people thought they saw a UFO flying overhead and coming from that bog or the junkyard. Who knows...it's all a bunch of nonsense if you ask me... Well, goodbye, doctor and if you don't mind my saying, the winters get quite cold in these parts so if you're planning on staying here, you'll want to wear something else besides that thin cotton lab coat."
"Good day, sir and thank you", Dr. Kirstt answered, cheerily waving and flashing another broad, toothy grin after the man before retrieving his lumpy and heavy briefcase from the ground. He walked on without another word to anyone, one step jerking quickly after the next. Just a stiffly grinning, happy-looking man with red, watery eyes; unblinking eyes; going about his business; walking on the road out of town with a lumpy, impatiently twitching briefcase gripped tightly in a boney hand.
Another man wandered after him as well though, because to that other man, there was something vaguely familiar about Doctor Kirstt. Elliot Jansen, who was steadily remembering more and more of his past life, had only just finished eating a small lunch in Rosie's Diner. Rose didn't often allow the old vagrant to stay very long because of his usually strange behaviour. This time however, she noticed a clarity in his eyes and a more upright and normal posture to Old Elliot when he entered her place which caused her to look twice and smile. He seemed to be suddenly a very intelligent sounding man as well because he had many questions to ask about Delta-Town. It was as if Elliot had just awakened from a long sleep and was trying desperately to catch up with the times after all the years that had past him by. She enjoyed a full two hours of answering question after question - not to mention much wonderful gossiping. But when she saw a tense change come over the man, she followed his gaze as he looked outside the diner window. Several people had stepped off the ten O'clock morning bus and one of them looked familiar enough to the old man to catch and hold his attention. "I must go, Rosie...thank you", he said abruptly and hastily got up to leave.
"Well...if you must", she replied with disappointment. Even as he dropped a few wrinkled credit notes on the table, his eyes never lost sight of that one particular passenger.
"You say the Faraway's live outside town at the old house Miss Vee used to own?"
"That's right, Elliot, you take the main road -"
"Thank you, Rose - thank you very much, I must go...there is someone...something I must do...goodbye", and with that Elliot pushed the front door, causing the little chimes to tinkle forcefully.
"How rude", she said with a sigh, for Rose was more annoyed about losing the man than about his hasty departure. Her gaze followed Elliot as he left, and a glimmer of affection was now in her eyes.
Exactly what it was about the stranger, Elliot couldn't quite recall yet but deep down he knew it was important that he follow Doctor Kirstt anyway, until he remembered everything. The man's face was just that familiar to the old astronomer, even after twelve long years.
Looking back at six o'clock of that same Saturday, the morning dawned cold, clear and sparkling with frost yet Dart, the Dragonfly, still felt that he had slept in. He didn't know how it could have happened again but, these past few days had been some of the happiest (and laziest) that he'd ever known. There was absolutely nothing of importance that needed to be done - it was wonderful! He had never known such delicious leisure since the defeat of the Flies seven days ago. Twice already, he'd woken up on the floor of the young human's workshop, lying carelessly on his back with his six spindly legs flopped loosely about, with not a care in the world. The spoke-legged robot who shared sleeping quarters with him was a rather simple sort who had apparently been put together with odds and ends from the yonder field of metal. Although it was of a very basic design and had limited intelligence, the awkward looking machine did seem to have a certain likeability. Now, as he performed a routine power-on-self-test, Dart took note that Legs had already left his allotted resting space to venture outside and do his daily chores.
Legs was a hard-working and reliable robot and was quite contented to be doing the same mundane yet essential job day-in and day-out. For his part, the Dragonfly would have been bored to the brink of robotic insanity if he had that kind of existence. Yet in spite of this simpleminded, mono-thought pattern, Dart did notice that, for some reason, Legs always rested in the same spot in the far corner of the barn. Was it then chance or coincidence that when the much larger robot was driven back inside the workshop, it too was parked, without forethought, right beside its smaller companion as well? Was it the boy or the robot who chose that other spot? No, even Dart could sense a subtle bond between the two old rusty and miss-matched brothers which defied any common explanation. The gawky, stiffly walking robot even came back on during the previous night to dote and tap with its hand against the side of the larger, silent one. Then it reached around and took something from behind its back, but Dart was only half-awake and paid no further attention. It was, after all, an odd robot...quite odd indeed.
As for him, Dart the glossy, chromed-plated Dragonfly was not only a warrior and Guardian (those were his primary system protocols) he was also a passionate explorer. Dart always yearned to see what was around the next corner in his life. If his protocols did not tie him so closely to humanoids, he could happily spend the remainder of his battery life traveling wherever the wind blew or the stars guided him.
His eight-foot-long, glossy fuselage body glimmered brightly in the morning sun as the slender robot ambled out of the large double doors of the old barn that was his new home. He clambered through a small pile of scrap metal that had been left at the entrance and something clanked and stuck to one of his six legs. The fastidious Dragonfly picked his way through the pile, making disgusted buzzing and whirring noises as he went. What a mess the whole place was, he thought with a twitch of his soccer-ball head. Such were the ways of a young human, he supposed.
Dart's two compound eye-domes shifted from a dull red glow up to an excited bright blue as he stepped further out into the bright sunlight. Dart felt he could stand-down for a short time from his primary Guardian duties and enjoy himself, for just a little while. Spreading his four large, transparent wings, the Dragonfly gave off a short burst from his vertical take-off jets and ascended gracefully. His reflective, rainbow-coloured wings thrummed in a powerful blur, causing a small dust-devil to whirl below him until he gained higher altitude. Quickly doing a last-minute self-test of all his weapon and navigational systems, the little Martian-made tactical fighter hummed smoothly away from the rickety old barn.
Banking around in a graceful turn, Dart noticed how well the overgrown shrubbery and trees concealed his new master's home from the prying yet limited senses of his enemies. Though his long-range and infra-red and motion scans had not detected further enemy movements for the past week, Dart had, from long experience, learned not to trust scanners alone. Thus he decided to spend the better part of the day conducting a detailed search pattern of the scrapyard below to further confirm in his mind that all his enemies from the previous week had been destroyed. The search would also give the restless Dragonfly the excuse he needed to stretch his wings and explore the surrounding countryside. Whirring high above the ground so as to better scan the vast length and breadth of the large field of old and scrapped machinery, Dart thought momentarily of the ancient and badly damaged robot that his young Master had limped into the workshop the previous afternoon.
If the Dragonfly could chuckle, he would have just then for the ancient machine that the young Master finally chugged and sputtered into the wooden building looked as though it would likely remain in there forever after. Although he could not fully comprehend the boy's compassion for the old giant, Dart sensed that there was an element of loyalty that the youngster felt for Big Ben which the insect-bot accepted and respected. Giving a shrug (which was only accomplished by giving his head a slight twist) the Dragonfly put such musings to the back of his mind as he resumed scanning the vast junkyard, not far below.
The day dragged by rather slowly for the Dragonfly and before too long, Dart, being the way he was, soon grew bored with the aimless chore that he’d set himself to. This was monotony that Legs, the simpleton, would relished with a passion. Dart couldn’t stand it one more moment and was just preparing to about-turn and zoom back to the barn and the company of his new friends when something beeped with a faint and barely audible, "blip". A small radar blip came back up to the little flying robot and startled Dart enough to make him hover in place for several moments. The return signal had been very weak and so momentary that Dart was unable to pinpoint exactly where it came from. He pinged his side-scanning radar again and waited. Nothing. Dart flew warily on now, searching cautiously. Ping-ding-ding..........ping-ding-ding.......ping-ding (blip). Stop. It was still faint yet certainly there; something, but what? The inquisitive Dragonfly decided to conduct a circle-search and banked gradually around in a wide arc. Dart was now fully focused on the job at hand, his expressive flickering eye-domes narrowed down to mere slits of concentration. The circles he flew spiraled out wider and wider with each lap. His radar, infra-red and motion scans continued more intensely as something told Dart he should be very careful now. Internally a heightened readiness took place within his offence-defence battle systems and the faint, zzee.....zzee....zzee gyro-whine of powering up weaponry took place. The Dragon in him awoke and Dart was transformed into a hyper-deadly killing machine. He banked into a mirror-circle and spiraled outward in the opposite direction now, scouting deeper into an all too familiar area of the scrapyard.
Ping-ding-ding-ding....ping-ding-ding.......ping-(blip)-(blip)....ping-(blip-blip-blip)). Tak-tak! Whoosh! With breath-taking quickness, his internal defence mechanism over-rode Dart's flight controls and two side-thrust rockets fired like gun-shots! The Dragonfly swerved away, in the nick of time, from the deadly little missile that had been fired up at him from a hidden lair far below. Just as swiftly, a decoy cloud of hot chaff-dust blew off from the end of his long tail and Dart's bubble shield came fully on. Pre-planned evasive manoeuvres took the still confused Dragon up and swerving away as a second missile detonated within the chaff-cloud and an Electro-Magnetic Pulse burst wracked his shield with enough force to give him a gear-grinding smack.
Knowing the enemy as well as he did though, the Dragonfly now knew that it had expended considerable energy trying for a quick kill. Feathering his wings back, Dart executed a numbing 9-G turn and dived from altitude with a loud super-sonic bang!
Targeting instruments locked on with instinctive ease and high-velocity tracers whined away from his shoulder-mounted rotary rail-guns. Four short bursts smacked down with deadly accuracy on the target and a cloud of dust and flying metal erupted around the pin-point bullet grouping. Still swerving viciously as he swooped by, Dart unloaded a measured number of small heat-seeker pellets which converged like magnets toward the target's heat source. Another searing hot explosion told the tale of a direct hit as the Dragon banked gracefully round to inspect his handiwork.
Dart landed like a feather on the top of a mound of scrap-iron and carefully scanned for further activity from the enemy. After a few minutes of patient probing and listening though, the Dragonfly felt quite confident that his counterattack had been successful. Nevertheless, Dart wisely maintained a cautious approach to the target area. As he drew nearer, Dart edged carefully around the open areas, keeping a sharp eye open for an ambush squad. It was not uncommon for one Fly to self-detonate as a decoy in order to try to make Dart drop his guard.
Black and powdery white soot scarred ground and the surrounding area of the short yet fierce skirmish. When he finally approached the remains of the robotic Fly that he had dispatched, Dart gave himself a mental nod of approval. He was pleased to see that his skills in combat had not lost their edge. Picking through the remains of what only minutes before had been one of the Others, Dart found an intriguing little piece of metal. The tip of his left front leg split open like the two ends of needle-nosed pliers. Dart’s foot now became a hand.
The two thin fingers of his hand allowed him to pick up the tiny object and more closely examine it. Its basic shape was like that of a tuning fork but there was more to it than just that. When Dart held it up and tapped it with the point of his other front foot, the tuning fork made no sound at all. Puzzled, the Dragonfly plucked and tapped the tiny device again and again, without receiving any response. It wasn't until he happened to turn more to his right though that Dart suddenly stumbled upon the hidden properties of the device. At a certain point while he was turning about with it still vibrating in his hand, the delicate instrument began to glimmer oddly and a faint ringing tone was heard. As Dart continued to turn, the gleam coming off the metal and the volume of the single note increased as well. After a certain point in the turn though, both effects began to fade away until the little tuning fork was still once more. Inspiration dawned on the robot and Dart chirped excitedly as he carefully plucked the instrument again. He realized that it must have been used by the Fly as a direction-sensitive homing device. If that was true and if it was still working properly, then a new danger could lay ahead. The Fly's Nest was not far away and could still contain more of the, cat-sized creatures.
As the thin metal fork vibrated and gleamed brightly, Dart leaped into the air with a deep thrumming of his four powerful wings. Hovering for a moment like a small helicopter, the Dragonfly then turned about as before until the signal was at its strongest. Then he flew slowly onward above the scrapyard, following the little ringing and glowing homing device.
He did not have far to travel, yet the area that the little compass lead him to was a much darker corner of the large scrapyard. It was a place that, if Dart was human, would have given him an uncomfortable gut-feeling of being watched. Dart glided slowly down then cautiously landed a short distance away from two large rusty metal objects. They were quite large and box-shaped, with sagging metal doors at the front of each. The doors hung half-opened on old and worn, rusty hinges and each rectangular box had, over the years, become tilted downward as they sank deeper and deeper into a sinkhole in the soft boggy ground of that area.
The air coming out of their dark, cave-like insides carried a cold, dank, musty odour which the Dragon knew all too well. It still caused the robot to shiver though, because this was their lair. Alert and cautious, Dart continued forward. His thin, insect legs moved daintily amongst the decaying heaps of garbage as if to emphasize his repugnance for the whole place. Upon closer approach to the two silently rotting boxes, more details about them began to appear. For one thing, although the boxes were extremely weathered and rusted, it became clear to Dart's sharp eyes that, long ago, they had both been painted a dark gray color as though to make them easily blend into the darkness and be less noticeable to prying eyes.
Closer the Dragon came and soon the ground all around him took on a more sinister and hideous character as well. Dead Flies lay strewn about the area and their bodies became more numerous the closer he drew to the slowly decaying cargo truck trailers. The musty odour of death hung as a stench in the air now and the slightest sound or movement made the Dragonfly freeze in place and crouch low. The sensation of being stared at by cold, evil eyes was so much so that Dart all but expected any one of the stiff, dead Flies to click out its dry, curled up legs and roll stiffly back upright again; perhaps even all those among which he now silently crept. Yet the black bodies remained cold and still and their legs stayed curled in upon their silent carcasses. Evil, it seemed, gave even the dead the macabre potential to live again through the fear that they passed on to the living.
So thickly did the collection of bodies lay that they formed two small hills that reached up to the lower lip of each dark and sharply-tilted iron box. Dart found that he must now wade through their dry and clinking, stiffly shifting mass in order to draw ever nearer to the rusty and decaying square caves. There was an end which the Dragon found that he must now reach, a completion of the journey that the strange little compass had lead him on. It could soon reveal something to him which he would otherwise, never have known about. Glassy, dark slanted eyes stared up blankly yet still seemed to follow, as if he should dare trespass into their lair; their Nest.
Up, up one of the dry, rattling heaps of little bodies clambered, to the very threshold of one of the decaying tractor trailer boxes. His eyes narrowed expressively into thin, ruby red slits and the Dragonfly wisely expended energy on his forward shields as he crawled down the slanted floor into the cold, hollow blackness. The little tuning fork compass shone its glow like a candle flame all round him now as Dart stumbled awkwardly down the flat, oily steel floor. There seemed to be something in the damp shadows just ahead glowing palely in the soft light. But, it was down at the far end of the long, narrow iron box, and had not yet taken on a distinct form that Dart could be sure about. A tingle of something as of icy claws touching his folded wings, causing Dart to stiffen and let out a startled, "Z-zee!" Something happened then that all his caution could never have prevented because it was so sudden and unexpected.
But it wasn't because of any mistake on his part...it was because the dark, sloping metal floor was very oily and slippery. Down deeper into the grimy dark interior Dart slid, his legs splayed wide apart and skittering in the slippery muck. Small, stiff, cold bodies scattered away before him as Dart reached the end of the long slide and collided with a bang into something oily and metallic. Regaining his feet, the Dragon cautiously activated small halogen lights built into his eye-domes and searched the filthy surroundings of the damp iron cave. The heavy stillness was suffocating now as Dart found himself in the very center of a home of evil. The delicate homing compass shone once again then seemed to know that it had found its way back. It winked out for the last time and slipped from Dart's grip to land among the dark, small, crumpled bodies which littered the nest. That was all there was to it, really. No dramatic revelation or shifting mystery to uncover, nowhere else to search. The ever curious Dragonfly felt almost let down by the cold, empty hollowness. Yet as he rested now against the end wall, shining the little searchlights here and there, Dart saw nothing to satisfy his expectations. What a doldrum, what a disappointing waste of his time, he thought as he began slowly climbing back up out of the large tilted metal box. For it was a box, in actuality, an old gray tractor-trailer cargo box that had languished with its twin trailer where they had been abandoned several years ago. Abandoned for some reason unknown to Dart and left to slowly sink down into the boggy ground at the outer fringe the scrapyard.
The trucks which had pulled the cargo trailers had long ago disappeared beneath the silent muck of Brinnel's Bog. Of their drivers, there was no sign. They had each found their own place of rest though, and peace...
Dart struggled up the slanted, slippery metal floor but suddenly found himself losing his footing and sliding back down to the end wall again. Escape from this oily, tilted box would not be as easy as he had expected. And, as he banged once more against the end wall of the old trailer, something dreadful happened. The wall clanged loudly with the sound of a bell and something black and musty, with long, whipping wires fell heavily down on top of Dart. Taken unawares, the alarmed Dragonfly lashed out in all directions in the pitch blackness! He fired off a volley of tracer rounds from his rotary guns yet still the strong corded wires snaked around him even tighter. Thinner monofilaments coming from the ends of the wires became an even more entangling net from which escape soon became impossible. Dart rolled and thrashed about, utterly trapped and confused in the dark confines of the cave which now seemed to have been meant to be a trap for any unwary intruder. Whatever the thing was that fell on him, it was a dead weight and it was Dart's struggling about that caused his predicament to become worse and worse. He was now as confined in the tangled wire mesh as a hapless insect unlucky enough to fly into a spider's web.
All was silent now within the dark and tilted, oily iron box as the trapped Guardian tried to reassess his situation. Switching on his eye-dome lights again, Dart took stock as best he could. The first thing he noticed was several faces staring down at him with dark, dead eyes. They were the remains of several Flies like those that littered the interior of the tilted cargo trailer, except that those on top of him were tangled together in a net of ganglia wires. The pile of dead Flies had been jarred loose from somewhere up above and then fell on him when Dart hit the wall. The criss-crossed tangle of wires now held Dart down with the dead weight of six or eight cold, dead Flies. Ignoring that obvious dilemma for the moment, Dart turned his lights on the objects that sounded the hollow bell-gong when he slid against the wall. What they were, he wasn’t certain. They were cargo of some sort - tall, steel gas tanks, and they were strapped securely against the end wall. The row of tanks stood on wooden pallets which prevented them from rusting in the water and muck on the tilted floor. Faded symbols painted on each high-pressure tank seemed to denote some importance to what they contained but Dart's knowledge of Earthly language was quite limited. Instead he decided to create a visual record of this interesting cargo to bring back to his young Master once he escaped the net. Perhaps the boy would have better luck interpreting the symbols. After making a short recording of the strange row of tanks, Dart began trying to work himself free of the tangled wires again. Using his razor edged pincers, he was able to partially free his upper body and his two front legs. But the stubborn tangle of exo-nerve ganglia wires remained tightly wound around the rest of him. Buzzing with frustration at his predicament, Dart tried again to crawl up the slippery slope, but with the dead weight of the Flies dragging him down, it was hopeless. With an inward sigh of dismay, Dart decided that it would be best to conserve his battery cells as much as possible until help arrived. And so, as noon passed outside the cargo trailer, Dart switched off certain nonessential functions in his body. He turned off the lights and rested where he lay in the darkness, even his eyes winked off. Dart was not without hope though. Before powering down, the Dragonfly switched on an emergency transmitter beacon in the hope that friendly ears would be listening. The silent radio signal ping-pinged weakly from the depths of the half-sunken trailer, calling out for help to whoever might hear it.
Meanwhile, in the shadows all around him, the long dead husks of once vicious Flies lay staring stiffly at the ceiling, at the floor and at the walls. Yet now and then, the dry and brittle little cadavers lay in such positions that their dark, dead eyes gazed out from the shadows…directly into the Dragonfly‘s eyes.
Next: Chapter 9 - Strange Change and Weird Doctor
Alex is enjoying his long weekend off from school, at home, eating pancakes with his mom, and speaking in quite strange ways; even Legs is acting oddly. But, it is while working on Big Ben that the most alarming change overwhelms him. No need to panic though...because there is a doctor walking slowly down the gravel road...carrying a bulging, twitching briefcase. And, if Alex stays where he is lying just little longer, happy, smiling doctor Kirstt will take very good care of him...and Elizabeth.
As of 2017-11-24, Chapter 8 (Part 2) will be at: Deepskystories.com