*Note- A short prologue is on chapter one. Each chapter has a link to the next to make reading it easier.
This is chapter twenty-seven of Liberty, A Daughter Universe Novel.
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“Lucas,” Rosie said. “There is road damage ahead, a trench of some kind. It is seventeen-point-two feet wide and two inches deep, as close as I can calculate. It is not too deep to drive over, but slow to a stop at the edge, then continue slowly so I can get better scans as we cross.”
“Okay, I see it,” Lucas replied and began to slow the old Buick and stopped just before the edge of the ‘trench’. It came from the woods on one side of the road and entered again on the other. The bottom looked level and was coated with a fine dust. The edges on both sides were cut vertically.
“What is it?” Lucas asked.
“It is a trench, Lucas,” Rosie replied. “I cannot determine how it came to be here. I have scanned it and the bottom is solid. It should be safe to cross.”
“You’re sure about that?”
“Well, it is my body being put at risk, so I am that certain.”
“Okay, here we go,” and he eased Rosie forward and felt one front wheel drop, then the other, followed in reverse order the rear wheels then up onto the other side. Sarah let out a breath she did not know she’d been holding when the rear wheels were on the road again.
Lucas looked at her and grinned. “Were you worried?”
She gave him an annoyed, but pleased look. No; I trust Rosie to watch out for us even if you can’t,” she said with a laugh.
“I am touched by your trust in me, Sarah,” Rosie said.
“Well, I do my best,” Lucas replied with mock indignation.
Sarah squeezed his hand, leaned closer against him. “I know you do, but I thought it was okay to double-checked with Rosie. anyway.”
Lucas smirked. “That’s why I gave her such a big brain. Speaking of which- “Rosie, you seem to be learning sarcasm. Has House been rubbing off on you?”
“Perhaps. As AIs, we communicate differently than humans.”
Lucas held up his hand. “I know, you have to ‘dumb it down’ to speak to me.”
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say ‘dumb it down’ Lucas. Use shorter sentences, maybe.”
Sarah laughed. “They do the same thing with you,” he said.
“I know that; it was just so funny to hear Rosie ‘dumb it down’ to explain she wasn’t ‘dumbing it down’”! she said, laughing.
Her laughter was infectious, and Lucas couldn’t help but laugh too. “She dumbed down her explanation that she wasn’t dumbing it down!”
They drove for several miles, trying not to laugh, when Sarah spoke again. “Look, Lucas. There’s an old house down there, near the river.” She pointed off to the left-hand side of the road ahead. “It looks abandoned. Can we stop for a few minutes? As comfortable as Rosie is,” and Sarah patted the deeply padded dashboard covering Lucas had added, “I need to stretch my legs.”
“I see it,” Lucas said as he slowed the car. “It will feel good to walk around a bit.”
The house was surrounded by a meadow about one thousand yards long and half that wide. Shadowed forests marked each end of the clearing and an old farmhouse sat at the end of a sandy lane, less than fifty feet a small fast-moving river and the steep mountain on the other side. A ragged-edged gap darkened the forest at each end of the valley and the trench they had crossed the road a few miles back, the scar, exited the forest, crossed the meadow, and disappeared at the far end.
“Well, there it is again,” Sarah said.
“Yes. We can get a closer look at it. No one has lived here for quite a while,” Lucas said with a note of surprise in his voice.
“If it’s so hard to get a house up here, why is this place rotting away?” Sarah asked.
“Exactly what I was wondering…” He steered the Buick through the trench then to the farmhouse. Black birds flocked around and through the trees of an old apple orchard at the far end of the clearing. Even though the house seemed close to collapse, a well-cared for vegetable garden was planted on one side of the lane; ripening tomatoes, green bell peppers and cucumbers ready to be harvested.
“Someone’s keeping a garden here,” Lucas said. “They probably live nearby and only come here to maintain it. I hope they don’t show up today.”
Little puffs of dust lifted into the air as the car came to a stop.
“Lucas,” Rosie spoke up, “you do realize this is the second time today you have gotten dust on me, and knowing what little I do about your grandfather, I calculate with a high probability that he would want me to shine for my Sunday showing. After all, it is my two-hundredth birthday.”
Road grime had not even occurred to Lucas, because applied a base coating when he reassembled her in his grandfather’s garage. But Rosie was right; after the drive to Liberty, the Buick would have needed a good bath and buff, anyway. Poppa had taken pride in her and Lucas had spent a small fortune restoring and updating nearly every part of her exterior and interior. Other than the upgraded seating and padded dashboard, with her electronics and new accessories hidden behind her original steering wheel and instrument cluster or inside the seats, Rosie looked the same as the day she left the factory. And Poppa would have buffed every inch of Rosie to a high shine. She had to be perfect for the big car show.
“Don’t worry, Rosie. There’ll be someone there to give you a good, hot sponge bath and buff you dry,” Lucas said. “But I’ll try to stay off dirt roads after we leave here.”
“That would be wise, Lucas.”
They got out of the car and stood for a few moments and basked in the warmth of the late-morning sun. There was a strange stillness in the air, with just a light breeze not blocked by the mountain ridges and old forests. The air was filled with birdsong and the faint sound of water splashing over rock in the river. Sarah took in a deep breath of the cool, clean air and a broad smile filled her face as she looked up at a sapphire sky, where a few cirrus clouds stretched like high white filaments.
“I’ve never been in such a beautiful place,” Sarah said, as she turned to take it all in. “It’s--almost magical!”
“It is, isn’t it?” Lucas replied, he turned to face Sarah. “This little valley is- gorgeous.” He smiled. “Like you.”
“Love you, too,” Sarah said with a mirthful smile.
“Love? What’s love have to do with it?” Lucas sang from a very old song House had found. House had become somewhat of an audiophile. “I said you’re gorgeous, not that I love you,” Lucas with a laugh. “Which I do.”
“The love is implied. You tell me every day that you love me. And I tell you that I love you.”
“Good to know we’re on the same page,” Lucas replied with a light smirk, then looked at the house and the meadow around it. “This house must belong to someone in the valley. It could be that it’s being held for a family member to build a new house on. That would explain why no-one’s living here now but there’s a nice vegetable garden.”
An old split-rail fence surrounded the vegetable garden, except where one post was missing. The scar, as they’d started to call it, cut through one corner of the garden as it crossed the meadow. Lucas had wanted to get a closer look at- the “trench” but did not expect to see it firsthand. And if it had not cut through that meadow, they probably would never have seen it other than where it crossed the road. Standing next to it, they could see a few broken branches in the opening where it exited the forest, leaving no trees standing. The opening was about twenty feet wide, and the scar would certainly also be the same two inch cut into the ground. With the same vertical edges except where Rosie’s tires had crumbled the soil.
Lucas walked over to the vegetable garden and looked at the damaged fence. Where the post was missing and the ends of split, wood rails connected at the other post sloped to rest on the ground.
“Sarah,” Lucas said, “look at this fence. The rails aren’t broken; they were cut through, but--the wood is singed. Like what a laser cutter would do.” He stood straight and turned in a circle. “I can’t imagine why anyone in the area would need a laser cutter.”
Sarah looked at where the ‘scar’ came out of the woods, cut a swath through the meadow, and then disappeared back into the forest.
“It’s really strange,” Sarah replied and walked to where Lucas stood. “It looks like a road clearing but you said it can’t be that and no one would put a road so close to a house, anyway.”
The farmhouse was a two-story wooden structure, the type you might find abandoned in the mountains. It still had traces of paint on the weatherboard siding. It was old enough to not even have a full foundation but was supported by piers of what appeared to be rough, homemade bricks. Lucas was sure houses like that had not been built for at least a century or longer. No curtains hung in the windows and, judging by the condition it hadn’t been lived in for years, or decades. The house looked somehow broken; the roof sagged in the middle and the corners drooped towards the ground at odd angles. The scar passed by the house rather than through it, as it had the split rail fence, but some of the ground near the house was torn up, as though heavy machinery had been used there. And wherever the ground torn up, there were crumbled, and scorched pieces of broken brick torn from the foundation piers. Lucas noticed that the house seemed to reach towards the ground in places where piers had been partially broken.
“What do you think happened to the house?” Sarah asked.
“I don’t know, but it must have been whatever made that path,” Lucas replied as he gestured towards the far end of the small valley, where the scar disappeared into the shadow of the forest. “But whatever did this is long gone.”
“Are you sure?” Sarah seemed apprehensive. “How do you know it isn’t just hiding inside the woods down there?”
“Because the scorched ends of those rails are cold, and-- listen,” Lucas said quietly and put a finger to his lips. “You hear the birds around that apple tree down there?”
Sarah cocked her head a bit and listened. “I hear them, but what does that have to do with anything?”
“It means that whatever made this scar is long gone. Those are blackbirds and they won’t come around people, or anywhere there’s a lot of noise.” Lucas gestured at the ground around the house. “And whatever did this would have made a lot of noise. So, whatever it was, it’s been gone for a while, maybe a couple of hours.”
“Okay,” Sarah said, and looked up at the farmhouse. “Then let’s take a closer look since we’re already here.”
Lucas walked to the center of the trench, knelt, and looked closely at the ground. “Look at this Sarah; there’s nothing left. It’s smooth, almost like a dirt road, even where it goes through solid stone.”
Sarah looked at it from side to side, and then ran her fingers over the smooth ground. A fine white dust clung to her fingertips. “But- what can do this?”
Lucas shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said. “The Roads Department has machines that can cut the ground level and leave it smooth for a roadbed. Like the machines that cut the high-speed auto and train tunnels through the mountain range. But this isn’t a road project.” Lucas looked along the scar from where it exited the forest at one end of the valley and went into the trees at the other end, then shrugged. “I have no idea what it is.”
They went to the house and looked through a front window. A thick layer of dust covered the floor and some broken window glass lying on it. Where pictures had once hung on the walls faded paint and traces of wallpaper showed. “This place is a mess,” Lucas said. “And it’s a perfect place to put a nice home. I don’t understand why that hasn’t happened.”
While Sarah went from window to window, Lucas walked around the outside; the ground was torn and rough in several places and in those areas, too, the foundation piers were missing. “This place doesn’t look like it will stand much longer.” Lucas wondered why the foundation had been damaged but the house itself hadn’t been destroyed.
“I think you’re right, Sarah said. “I’m not going to risk walking on the porch; I might fall through a rotten board.”
“Yes, please don’t do that,” Lucas called back. An old well was at one end of the house and Lucas walked over to get a closer look. A slightly domed, cracked concrete cap still covered the top and small pieces of rusted iron were inset near the center. The iron was cut flush with the dome’s surface, leaving a smooth finish on the remnants of iron. Lucas leaned over the well and held one hand just above the bolts, expecting to feel some residual heat, then touched one; it was cold.
Who would want old handmade bricks, cast iron, trees and--soil? Except for the iron and plant life, duplicates of old brick and nearly everything else could be printed out in NuMat. Nothing about this makes sense.
“I guess we should get back in the car and head on to Liberty,” Lucas said. “It shouldn’t be more than a few hours’ drive left to get there.”
They got back in the Buick and drove the long sloping, winding road through the narrow valley, as the road alternated through cool, dense shade and sudden splashes of warm sun along the way.
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This was originally posted on Simily.co
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About the Creator
I enjoy a quiet retirement with my life partner and our three dogs.
It is the little joys in life that matter.
I write fiction and some nonfiction.
A student of life, the flow of the Tao leads me on this plane of existence.
Spirit is Life.