Alex The Inventor - Chapter 12 (Part 4)
Book 2 of an Illustrated Sci-Fi Trilogy
Chapter 12 (Part 4) - The Menace Found...
Alex trudged through the darkness, deep in thought, musing about his two wayward mechanical companions. He had never considered Legs or Big Ben his friends—at least not in the human sense—and yet... he still cared for and worried about them. Alex sighed and shook his head at the paradox and drew his collar up to ward off the chill night breeze. Hopefully the two oddly-behaving robots hadn't travelled very far, and his walk would be a short one. That old Ben was alive again was a miracle, but that he took off under his own power to do God knows what was an absolutely fascinating mystery that Alex had to find an answer to. The wind blew more sharply against his face as the boy picked his way through the shadows—the weak beam of his flashlight a mere candle flame beneath the over-arching night-world. The path the two robots made was deep and still fresh in the dry dirt, and so Alex followed. Wending this way and that, crookedly among the piles of scrap, the robots' tracks seemed to be headed toward a now-familiar area of the scrapyard:
"The crater," Alex whispered knowingly. That same sense of walking into another less friendly, alien realm began to slowly creep into his thoughts again, as his home fell farther and farther behind him. What if my flashlight conks out on me, Alex suddenly thought. He stopped to gaze for a moment at his one and only means of finding his way through the heavy darkness. The cold night wind was quite strong and gusty, and Alex had to squint every so often to keep the dry, blowing grit out of his eyes. The hand that held the light soon became chilled too, and so, Alex switched the flashlight to his other hand to warm it in his pocket. As Alex started off again, he was surprised to discover that after only a few more paces, the two sets of tracks from the runaway robots split off into two different directions.
"Oh no, what now," he whispered as a dilemma suddenly presented itself; "which way should I go?"
Alex had gone out on this hike in the dark to find one old wandering robot. To have found a second robot missing as well had indeed been a surprise, but now to find that they each took separate paths, complicated everything. The path that Big Ben was on still lead straight and true toward the distant corner of the vast scrapyard. But it was Legs' path, which abruptly veered off to the left, in a northwest direction, toward a far corner of the large scrapyard, where Alex had never been before. First the odd pinging and twitching, and now this. Legs' behavior was becoming more and more bizarre. Alex decided to keep on Ben's tracks since that was the main reason he was out there. For all he knew, Legs was still malfunctioning as badly as when he first returned to the workshop the previous evening. Whatever the quirky robot was doing wandering about in the scrapyard, Alex had no idea, but he could only do one thing at a time. For the time being, he decided to first find Big Ben; then, if need be, he would worry about what other nonsense Legs was up to. His mind made up, Alex remained on the original path, and followed the deep, wide tracks left behind by the wayward construction-bot. He was sure it wouldn't be too much longer before he caught up, because the two tracks diverged from one another in the same clearing where Alex had rested with Big Ben just three days before. He could still see the brightly coloured X that he had spray-painted on the ground before driving the robot back to the workshop. It was a simple matter to follow the same paint marks he'd made the first time he picked his way through the maze of scrap piles to get to the blast crater. After only a few minutes of walking along the new path though, Alex began to notice that something was changing; the night wasn't quite as dark as it had been. The moon was completely hidden behind thick black storm clouds, and it was beginning to rain as well. So, why was everything becoming easier to see, he wondered. Indeed, as he continued forward, Alex realized he could turn off his flashlight with little change in visibility. As he did so, he became aware of a greenish blue phosphorescent glow further ahead, which cast fuzzy shadows back towards him. The wind abated temporarily, and in the silence that followed, a faint sparking and snapping sound came back to Alex.
"What is that", he whispered as he crept through the weird shadows.
Indeed, with each sharp, electric snapping sound, there was an accompanying flash of bright blue light. The coldness that gathered around Alex began to feel closer to his skin, and he hunkered down lower and pulled the thin coat collar tighter, trying keep warm. After only a few minutes more though, it dawned on Alex that he was shivering, not from the cold, but from a growing sense of dread. The feeling did not go away, but grew even thicker and more substantial with each creeping step he took. Snap... hum-m... m... snap. The sound grew louder and sharper in his ears, and Alex found himself creeping forward now only while the humming and snapping noise muffled the sound of his own foot-falls. The glow soon took on the substance of actual hard light as well, and with it, the shadows grew deeper and sharper as well. An instinctive animal fear soon gripped the boy and he crept ever nearer the crater of the Glass Tunnels with all his senses tingling and alive. What is that, he said again but this time only in his silent thoughts. Humm... Psh-snap... Humm... crikl-sss-snap! The static in the air grew so thick and pungent with the scent of ozone that Alex felt all his hairs prickle and stand on end. He was now crawling forward on his hands and knees, and there was only one small mound of trash between him and his view of the crater. Silence. Alex stopped crawling immediately and held his breath. He feared even breathing. Something breathed a low, deep-throated, "Hoarmph," and thick steel legs sank down deep into the soil to crack the heavy stones buried there. Did ‘It’ see or smell him? Alex still held his breath behind gritted teeth as he lowered his face slowly downward. “I'm a rock… just a rock", he whispered fearfully.
His heart pounded now in his throat as the silence whispered out to him, "I know you're there…boy." It clung to him for a moment more as if the thing waiting in the light was making up its mind about him.
"Don't look up, ‘It’ will see you," said a small, fearful voice. Without warning, the snaps and crackles resumed inside the crater of light that lay just beyond the last pile of trash. Why am I doing this, Alex thought as he inched still closer, I don't want to see, but I have to look. In a near-trance, he moved forward now, the rays of the flashing light just shining over the top of his head. The slow, heavy-sounding thing made low, gurgling noises too, as though it was constantly grumbling or swallowing as it went about its business. Thunk... s-s-s-thunk-s-s-s… k-thunk, the sounds of several signpost legs made the ground shiver beneath whatever it was as it walked away a few paces. It probably won't see me if I take just a little peek now, Alex thought; but as he was about to lift his head, the boy heard other different sounds mingling with those of the lone creature. The sounds were smaller and scuttling in nature, and seemed to suddenly come from everywhere at once. Alex ducked back down into the concealing shadows for he knew what made those little delicate movements. A damp, crawly feeling niggled slowly up his back as Alex tried desperately to stay calm, and yet get out of there as quickly as possible. The Flies! It was the Flies! How many could there be, he wondered in terror, as he backed slowly away on his hands and knees. A sharp shard of glass that lay hidden in the dirt suddenly cut through his pants and pricked his knee. Taken by surprise, Alex gasped out loud in pain before he could hold his tongue.
"Hsst," an evil sounding voice hissed from just behind the small trash pile. Alex froze where he was. A numb sense of cold terror gripped him like talons on the back of his neck, and he began to tremble uncontrollably. How could I be so stupid, he thought as he realized his awful predicament. He should have been more cautious about creeping up so near to such a dangerous place on his own. In the heavy silence that followed, he heard the stealthy scuttle of small, crawling, hopping bodies edging closer and closer. A thick and evil musty smell drew near, as did the sound of dry, grinding little steel gears. Abruptly the night air came alive with the sound of cracking, buzzing wings as some of the wicked things took flight as well. Oh jeez, they'll find me now for sure, he thought madly and began retreating faster.
"There... iiit... isss," a harsh, rasping voice cut through the dark, cold night. Alex jumped to his feet then, but what he saw was so unbelievable that, despite his shivering fear, he had to pause for a moment and just stare, dumbfounded! For, there before him, in the eerie light, was a monstrous spider-like creature the size of a grizzly bear! It was only now turning itself on its powerful hissing legs to face him with a one-eyed Cyclops' gaze of icy, simple evil. And, as it moved, its long, talon-like legs articulated with slow, graceful ease. Chuff... sst-chuff... sst-chuff, they hissed smoothly as the Spider advanced on him. Yet, as each steel leg stepped forward, it came down with a sudden, stiff strength so powerful that rocks cracked and exploded into dust beneath it. There was an unstoppable basic power and purpose to the Weaver Spider, which seemed to overshadow the wicked deception and sharp-minded cunning of its smaller cousins, the Flies. They had been wandering quietly around the outer edge of the circular crater, not wanting to enter into the middle where the Spider walked, or to even touch the glowing substance, which now grew up and out from the huge crater pit. All thoughts of fleeing seemed to elude Alex as he continued staring, in wide-eyed astonishment—not so much at the Spider, but at what it was making. At first glance, there was nothing but shimmering, brightness filling and overflowing out of the rim of the once-empty hole in the ground. Like the eerie glow of lava bubbling up from a volcano's cauldron, the substance drew one's eyes to it hypnotically. Yet this material, which had been slowly created layer by layer from deep below the ground did not flow out of the crater's lip as would super-hot magma. Instead, the shining and winking, aqua-blue glass construct was a cold and solidly-woven creation. I say woven, because that was exactly the means by which it was made, for the Spider paused in its steps to carefully finish attaching a glimmering strand of thread to the center of the web formation it was finishing. As a normal spider web appears after a rainfall, its sticky threads covered in hundreds of tiny raindrop beads, so too was the appearance of what the large robotic Spider had just finished weaving. But, unlike a smaller spider's web, these strangely woven, and built up layers of thread glimmered luminously inside and out with beads of winking lights such that the entire web appeared to be both a solid device as well as transparent. It pulsed and sparked constantly with unimaginable power from the innumerable tiny beads and the Weaver Spider stepped darkly from the middle of it all, towards Alex. And as it drew nearer, a cold, gelatinous breath of Air-Gel dribbled from its mouth and dagger pincers to drip down onto the throbbing web.
"Yyouu-hhave-sseennn. Now... yyouu… mmusst… die," a chilling voice rasped from behind him.
Whirling round, Alex caught a glimpse of evil, slit-eyes gazing coldly up at him from the shadows, and he jumped back, terrified. A chill shot down his back as Alex realized he was slowly being surrounded, and he tried to run to his left, away from both the Spider and the Fly, which had crept up on him. Something thin and dark buzzed passed him though, causing him to stumble back once again. Soon there were more of the wiry, skeletal looking creatures creeping and buzzing all around him as they quickly cut off all other means of escape. Alex desperately cast all around for any other avenue, but now, wherever he looked, there were more and more deep violet glowering eyes staring back at him. Now they closed in, still cautiously, but with more bravado as their number grew. Almost without thought, Alex reached into his back pocket and found his Luss, which he then quickly held out in front of him as he took up an alert, defensive posture. It was not glowing as it had before though and there was a gray, flat look to it, as though it was just a piece of iron pipe that he had picked up off the ground. Seeing the weapon suddenly thrust before them, the enemy balked uncertainly. They did not retreat though, but circled warily, waiting to see if the boy and the gray pipe he held was a threat of any sort. Alex turned round, first one way then another, keeping his Luss held out in front of him. When nothing seemed to happen though, the enemy became bolder and slowly crept forward again, closing the circle tighter and tighter. What's wrong, Alex wondered frantically as he stared uncertainly at the gray, dead looking thing in his hand. Then he remembered Halden's request for half of his Luss in his dream; his generosity in sharing it with his friend though had left him with a Luss, which was much weaker, perhaps even useless now. I have to do something fast, he thought, and so, without knowing anything else to do, Alex ran recklessly right toward the advancing Spider, and the first rank of Flies, swinging the Luss like a club. Again the enemy stopped uncertainly, but even as they did so, Alex turned and ran back the way he came, trying to scare the other Flies coming from behind him.
"Come on, come on," he yelled desperately, and he leaped up high, taking them all by surprise.
Shutting his eyes tight, Alex prayed with all his might that his Luss would do something, anything!It did. It was as though a whip made of lightning had struck out with terrible and deadly force. The thin rank of ten Flies in front of him simply vanished at the scorching touch of the high-energy forks. Alex blinked, then had to shut his eyes again, and turned his face away from the resulting return wave of exploding heat, and behind him the air was instantly alive with the pulsing, thak-thak-thak, of Shockbolt Guns! Yet even as he turned aside, Alex's arm swept back blindly, and a little golden, round shield morphed and shaped itself in the nick-of-time to fend off the deadly volley. Plastic then solid once more, with blinding quickness, the vicious little weapon, forged from the living volcanic alloys of Olympus Mons was a thing unmatched in the battles of ancient Mars. A Martian Royal adept, with a finely crafted Luss, was a fearsome sight to behold during battle. Time and again the enemy of a Martian would under-estimate the power of his Luss, and so too did the Flies.
"Fall back!" one hissed with sudden fear, but too late was his warning as, without fear, Alex leaped again back toward them, now in a trance of gleeful boyish cruelty. To his wildly dancing eyes, the robotic insects before him were now merely irrelevant practice targets.
"This is fun!" he yelled out with laughter as a Sparrow Spear blew like frothing lava out of the vibrant Luss. It arced up high and gracefully, like a thrown spear, then burst into dozens of swiftly flying darts of instant death for the next horde of Flies.
"Harrumph", the giant Spider grunted as it advanced on Alex with surprising speed for such a large creature. A few of the Flies in front of it were trampled mercilessly under its awful mass as it bore swiftly down on the boy.
"Watch out!" someone yelled, and Alex dodged aside but then stumbled backward onto the sparkling and glowing, web-like structure that covered the inside of the large crater pit. Getting back on his feet, Alex had to shield his eyes from the bright lights that burned and flashed all around him like millions of strobes. The few remaining Flies hidden in the shadows around the outer edge of the large circle did not dare enter the light, as if the wide, pulsing web was the Spider's domain alone. The Spider though, had no such qualms as it turned and stepped back onto the large, luminous dish. The vast, glowing structure sloped gradually downward so that Alex found that he was forced to step back more and more toward its center. This web-spun structure was truly massive, entirely covering the top of the huge hole left in the ground when Miss Vee's domed spaceship departed the Earth. The Flies hissed angrily from the surrounding edge, apparently frustrated that they couldn't enter the circle. Whether it was because they were not able to or because the Spider forbade them from doing so, Alex wasn't sure. He backed cautiously down the smooth, glassy surface of the dish and the Spider stalked closer, grunting harshly with every step. Alex waved his Luss and took a step forward but his weapon was unpredictable again and the weak spark of force it emitted was easily shrugged off by the eight-legged monster. Alex caught a glimpse then of the Weaver's one large eye in the center of its curved metal face. He thought he saw something else there as well, something that could be familiar to him, but there was no time for such wondering now. "Come, this way, hurry!" called the same mysterious voice he'd heard a few moments earlier. Alex glanced behind him to see who the voice belonged to but he saw no one in the glaring maze of blue and green lights. He blinked as his eyes teared up from the increasing glow. It seemed to be engulfing him the further he slid down the gigantic sloping dish and he found it more and more difficult to keep his footing. The surface was slippery smooth and rose up all around him the deeper he descended inside it. There were no shadows with which to judge distance or depth and Alex felt he was becoming trapped inside a confusion of brightly flashing lights. Closer to the center he backed, not taking his eyes off the pursuing monster. Again Alex saw something small and silver gleam for a moment on the Spider's forehead, just above its single large eye, but he had no chance to look again. Down, further down he stumbled inside the slippery, glowing trap. He felt more like an insect trapped in a web now as the huge structure closed in, all around him. He saw a guide-wire of sorts within his reach that criss-crossed with several others and radiated out from the center point of the web to its outer rim. Alex reached out for it to steady himself but was shocked to see his hand pass right through the wire as though it and the other wires were mere illusions. The structure of the dish was becoming less and less solid as Alex moved closer toward its center; and at the center lay a small round pool. The rim of the pool was a tangled mass from which every long guide-wire thread, radiated as thousands of silver spokes would on a gigantic wheel. Even as he shuffled cautiously down toward the center, Alex felt his feet beginning to sink down through the floor itself as it became less and less solid under him. Alex felt that soon he would sink so far into the gelatinous dish that he would be unable to move at all. A dry grunt of satisfaction came from the Spider as it came on more boldly, wishing to finally end the chase. "Jump! You have to jump now", the same strange voice cried in earnest!
"Where are you", Alex yelled as he stumbled and slid down to the center of the huge glass web.
"Run and jump now, while you still have a chance!" Glancing behind him, Alex saw the small round pool in the center of the web. It bubbled slightly with a rippling, quicksilver liquid that didn't seem at all safe.
"Har-harrumph", the monster barked and it clicked its large, deadly, steel mandibles as it leaped hungrily at Alex!
"No way are you getting me", he yelped and with that, Alex turned and ran as fast as he could the last few yards down to the little pool, his feet splashing still deeper and deeper into the softening floor. The Spider nip-nipped at his heels but at the last moment, Alex leaped, tucked in his legs and performed a perfect cannon-ball into the bubbling pool!
Next: Chapter 12 (Part 5) - Talking to a Ghost...
Alex descends into the depths of the bizarre well filled with the strange substance—Air-Gel—where a disembodied voice beckons him onward to a most unnatural encounter. And his journey to another place, both wondrous and dangerous, begins. As of 2019-09-02, Chapter 12 (Part 4) can be read at: Deepskystories.com