Alex The Inventor-Chapter 14 (Pt.1)
Book 1 of an Illustrated Sci-Fi Trilogy
Read Chapters 1 - 13 at: Deep Sky Stories
Chapter 14 (Part 1) - Converging Paths
Teresa Vasquez steadied herself with a handhold fastened above the navigational console in the bubble-room, as another shockwave thudded through the soil from above; it was getting closer too. Things were going to get a bit nerve-wracking really soon, it seemed.
"I hope you kids don't start chatting and getting to know each other some more", she said to herself with a dry chuckle and a glance at the ceiling. Everything, it seemed, had been done that could be done to prepare her vessel and now, all she could do was sit and pray that they got back with the Parathagon fuel without a hitch.Teresa walked over to the large ball of the ship's Control-Sphere and moved her hand along its surface till the orange glow appeared again. She gently pushed against it and felt the shell of it start to slide up and into the recess in the wall.She knew from the computer logs that Rainah had been secretly practicing with the sphere for some time. Teresa smiled slightly at the girl's ingenuity; it seemed she was quite proficient with it now too. That was just as well, who knew what Rainah would have to do on her own one day if anything should happen...Another tremor jolted the vessel and the Command Chair swiveled slightly on the round platform it was bolted onto. Well, no time for daydreaming, time to go through a dry-run of the launch tutorial so that, hopefully, there wouldn't be any mistakes when she did the real thing.She was just sitting back in the chair’s soft padding when something beeped over at the Communication Console. Teresa frowned and listened intently."Beep", sounded the quiet chime again. She spun round in the chair and stared – tensely this time – at the console several paces away. A small red light was blinking there, at the messaging screen."Beep."Without further hesitation she turned back to face the inside of the sphere and jabbed at a relay button on the armrest. Then, quickly donning the feedback band of fiber-optic light-wires, she closed her eyes for a brief moment while intimate connection was made with the ship's computer. The holographic bubble popped away from the inner sphere wall again and engulfed her in its transparent, winking gems of multi-colored icons. Teresa's mind raced and in the blink of an eye, the ghostly bubble blurred as it spun and tilted so that the requested icon cluster floated at her fingertips.She took a deep, shaky breath and then touched the air where the appropriate icon lay. In only another blink, the whole world changed for her as a plate-sized screen softly appeared within the Holo-Bubble and John Faraway looked across at her from millions of miles away."John", she gasped and she shot her hand out and through the face she tried to touch! The hologram reset itself again as she withdrew the hand and fell back into the padded backrest. Teresa Vasquez was struck dumb by this sudden turn of events and didn't even feel the next shock-wave from the Flies as they gradually closed in on the Biosphere garden.Radio waves and their signals flashing back and forth between Earth and Mars require an average of twelve minutes travel-time before reaching each destination, so vast is the distance to each world. So it was that a full twelve minutes would pass before Doctor John Faraway could respond to Teresa's greeting.Teresa gazed with wonder at the person she now saw before her. John had aged somewhat since she had last seen him but otherwise looked healthy, if, perhaps, a bit thinner. There wasn't much in the way of home cooking to be had on Mars, she figured.There was something else different about him too: something about his eyes. They looked distant and wistful; homesick, that was the word. Suddenly, Teresa had an idea - something they could do while there was still time. "John!", she shouted, and even though he would not yet hear her instructions for several minutes, Teresa related what she wanted him to be ready to do, at the end of the time delay.Then she swiveled off the chair and ran for the communications and archiving console at the other end of the room. She soon found what she needed in a storage drawer there then hurried back to the Control Sphere. After a few more seconds of setting up the proper equipment and inserting a small archiving disc, she pressed the record button in the armrest of her chair then sat back and waited. The last minute ticked down, then John suddenly stopped talking and his face changed and softened.A look of heavy guilt replaced his somewhat upbeat and enthusiastic demeanor and he stammered that he understood what to do. He had just heard her frantic instructions, wherever he was on Mars.John Faraway straightened up and composed himself then and looked steadily back through the vast distance between the two worlds and began to speak once more. This time though, he was talking to his son, Alex.
Rainah and Alex emerged from the tunnel only a stones-throw away from his workshop. The lid of the dumpster lifted up with a quiet whirr of gears and Alex understood then how Miss Vee had and arrived and departed so mysteriously after talking with him about his inventions that day, four years ago.Off in the distance behind them, the children heard the whump....whump of each detonation as the horde of Flies slowly dug their way down toward the buried spaceship. Time was running down, maybe faster than they had anticipated.
"Come-on", Alex said, and lead Rainah toward his darkened workshop. He paused briefly upon seeing a pair of headlights turning into the driveway, but only for a moment, then he hurried forward. Banging through the rickety doors of the barn, he switched on his flashlight and shone it on Big Ben sitting at the far end.
"You're sure there is room for both of us", Rainah asked. They had been running the whole way through the tunnel since leaving Miss Vee. It was the fastest half-mile Alex had ever run and he was wobbly-legged and out of breath. Rainah, on the other hand, hadn't even broken a sweat and pulled him up, panting, to where the thick-set construction-bot stood.
"Ben", Alex said between breaths, "time to turn on, Ben!" The massive, slow-moving heavy-lifter whirred his bullet-head back round from where he had been looking out the side window and gazed thickly down at Alex. It was the youngster, he thought dimly, and another. Then, looking beyond the two children, Ben saw the Dragonflies, Dart and Jade at the far entrance as well. He clicked dully through his limited Robot-Recognition Archive but was unable to find a match for these two strangers.Oh well, if they were with the boy then all was well, as far as Ben was concerned. Alex unlatched the curved, double-leaf metal doors to Big Ben's iron belly and crawled inside. Then he helped Rainah climb in beside him. It was a tight fit since Alex had never thought he would be sharing the space with anyone else when he had modified the robot's innards to allow him room inside.
"I thought you said this thing had two seats inside it", she huffed angrily as she squeezed down behind Alex in a small space behind the driver's seat.
"Oh...sorry", Alex chuckled with boyish wickedness, "I guess I forgot." Rainah gave him a vengeful swat on the back of his head - "Ow!"
"Just get this monster moving if you please", she growled. Alex pushed in the old-fashioned clutch pedal then pushed the starter button on the crude dashboard that was bolted to the metal floor. Chug-chug-chug-chug-b-b-broom! Big Ben's powerful diesel engine fired up and, as Alex gently let the clutch out, the huge old robot jerked smartly into motion. Lastly, Alex switched on two powerful fender-mounted aircraft landing-lights as he approached the open front doors.Who was that?
"Mr. Chatter?" Rainah gasped. Both adults stood frozen in shock at the threshold, blinded by the beams of aircraft landing-lights which shone full in their faces.
"Alex...what -", Mrs. Faraway cried, turning away from the twin beams of the krypton bulbs. It was then that she heard, for the first time, the ground-shaking explosions in the far-off corner of the scrapyard and she and Mr. Chater turned round curiously to try to see what was happening out there.It was just at that moment too that, from out of the thick shadows of the scrapyard came Legs the scavenger-bot, happily chirping away to himself as he trundled homeward with his load of scrap for the day.He had found many fascinating pieces of scrap during his wanderings. Funny thing though; they all seemed to be the same size and shape. In fact, there were so many of them scattered throughout the yard that Legs had no trouble at all finding them and loading them all into his back loading-bucket.Another odd thing he had started to notice on the way back though was that all those pieces of scrap began to move and jump around inside his bucket after sunset.Very odd indeed... Oh well, thought Legs in his own simple way, he was certain that the young lad would find this load of scrap to be most fascinating."Chirp-chirp", Legs said to himself proudly as he wobbled forward on his long, spoke-d legs. His full bucket-load of scrap jostled and jumped about behind his back.Oops, now some of them were jumping out of his bucket, how very strange, and they were looking up at him with angry, glowing eyes too. Rainah peered curiously over Alex's shoulder at the bizarre image of Alex's mom and the teacher framed within the wide barn doorway, and, just beyond them, coming out of the night, another stilt-legged robot as it stopped and then...
"What is that", she whispered tensely in Alex's ear, trying to see what the things were that were jumping off the robot like monstrous fleas off of a giant dog's back!