Wednesday, September 19, 2018

FOURTEEN: JUNK FLOATING IN SPACE




COMBOT 4 WAS A robot, and therefore should have been designed without emotions, most especially fear. But the ComBot model wasn’t like other robots. They were made to emote. They were made to feel. The inventor, an alien by the name of Hanx Gulpernod, was asked for a robot that would be able to pilot a star cruiser. In fact, he was asked for a whole fleet of robots to pilot, and essentially run, a luxury star liner. They would be the sole crew apart from the captain.

The captain, having been hired for the job already, was a Darlop, a race of quick thinking aliens from the planet Darlop billions of miles from Earth.

The main duty of these robots, apart from keeping the ship on course, cleaning, cooking, running errands, doing the laundry, and lifting heavy boxes, was to ensure the safety of every passenger aboard the star liner. Gulpernod, being the practical, sensible alien he was renowned to be, decided that a robot can’t be expected to keep people safe unless it actually cared about them. So he created the ComBot, the first robot in the galaxy reputed to “care for your safety”.

ComBot 4 had often felt grateful to his creator for the complex emotions it was able to experience. Why, the ability to laugh is one of the great pleasures of the known Universe. Yet, as the robot cowered in the Alternate Auxiliary Backup Control Room, watching the human, Oliver Jordan, wreak havoc upon the interior of his master’s ship, the robot decided that if he was able to get out of this mess intact then he would track down Mr. Gulpernod and give him a punch in the nose.

The robot’s internal thought banks were bouncing around like an ashkinell with Faolskin’s disease—a reference anyone outside of the Bliket system would find hard to understand—when there was a hesitant tapping at the door. The tapping quickly turned into an insistent banging. ComBot 4 brought up a new camera feed on the monitor. The feed showed ComBot 6 outside the Alternate Auxiliary Backup Control Room. ComBot 4 opened the door and the other robot rushed in.

“The human is killing us,” ComBot 6 said, the door closing behind it. “The General, I fear, has made a mistake.”

“What are we to do?” ComBot 4 said.

“That is an answer I do not have, comrade, but if we do not come up with a feasible solution, we will all be nothing more than junk floating in space.”

That was an idea that ComBot 4 did not enjoy thinking about. A pang of fear settled deep within the robot’s diodes and it thought once more of the satisfaction it would gain if given the chance to slap around its creator. Then another thought cropped up in the super computer that was its brain.

“The Transmatter Beam,” ComBot 4 said.

“That is an excellent idea, comrade,” ComBot 6 said. “We can lock on to the human from here and send him back to the planet below.”

“Then we engage the Faster Than Light engines, leave this primitive planet behind us, and then go find our creator.”

“Our creator?”

“Yes, I feel a sudden urge to have words with the man.”





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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

THIRTEEN: TRANSFORMATION




SHIFT

For a moment there was a break in the clouds and the moon appeared in the night sky, shinning down to reflect on the surface of the duck pond in Byrne Park. It had always been their favorite place. They had stopped off at Byrne park three years ago after the Senior Prom for a walk in the night air. It was there at the duck pond, under the stars, the two had danced slowly to music only the two of them could hear. Since that night, the spot had always been more than special.

Oliver, sitting there next to Elyse on the wooden bench, looked from the moon, to the pond, then to the love of his life. He smiled as he realized that he’d never have a more opportune moment.

So, pulling the ring from his jacket pocket, Oliver dropped to one knee and took Elyse’s hand in his.

“What are you doing?” Elyse said, a bit breathless.

“Elyse,” Oliver said, ignoring her question. “You know how much I love you.”

“No,” she said, a smile on her face and excitement beaming from her eyes.

“I want nothing more in life than to spend it with you,” Oliver continued. “To grow old with you.”

He held the ring up for her to see. But, before he could get the words out of his mouth, she snatched the ring from his hand, pushed him to the ground, and knelt before his prone form.

“Will you marry me, Oliver Jordan?” she said, holding the ring out to him and smiling from ear to ear.

Oliver picked himself up off the ground, brushed the leaves from his clothes and laughed.

“Yes,” he said.

SHIFT

“You can’t push yet,” Oliver said, trying his best to mask the panic in his voice.

“Don’t tell me what to do,” Elyse said, the sweat standing out on her forehead. “I’ll push when I want to push.”

“Not yet, dear,” the nurse said. “You don’t want Dr. Stephens to miss the party.”

“I’m pushing,” Elyse said, leaning forward in the bed, bearing down with her feet in the stirrups. “Ready or not!”

SHIFT

“She’s beautiful,” Elyse said.

He stood next to Elyse, his arms around her as the two looked down into the bassinet at the treasure the two had created.

“Takes after her mother,” Oliver said.

The two were content to just watch as the newborn slept.

“She needs a name,” Oliver said. “She’s been in the world for almost two hours now.”

Elyse looked thoughtful.

“How about Sue?” she said.

“After your mom?”

“Yeah,” she hugged him closer.

“Perfect,” Oliver said, holding her tight.

“Welcome to the family, Sue Jordan,” Elyse said, and there were tears in her smiling eyes.

SHIFT

“The massive battle has moved into its third hour as Lady V, Shadow Fox, the Blue Shamrock, Spitfire, and Power Surge attempt to take down Triple Threat, causing traffic on 23 to back up for miles. So avoid 23 as you plan your morning commute folks, you’ll be waiting a while. This is Felicia Hamm for GSB traffic.”

Oliver sighed as he switched the radio off, twisting the knob until it clicked.

“Well, it’s official,” he said, shutting the engine down as well. “We’re going to be late.”

Elyse was turned around, gazing into the backseat.

“You thought 23 would be faster,” she said, her tone not quite accusatory.

“And 23 would have been faster,” Oliver said, loosening his tie. “This never would have happened if Captain Might was still around. I mean, five Mighties and three hours for Triple Threat? Come on.”

“Mm-hm,” Elyse said.

“Captain Might would’ve had this wrapped up ten minutes. Twenty tops.”

“He was the best.”

“Wasn’t he!”

“He was.”

“Now we’re going to be late,” Oliver said.

“So we’re late. No biggie.”

“It’s not every day that Ruthie is going to turn a year old,” Oliver said.

“Well, the party is just going to have to wait then, isn’t it.”

“Yeah, I guess so.

They sat there in silence on the 23, the cars stretching out both ahead and behind for a mile or so.

“Look at them,” Elyse said, still facing the back seat.

Oliver turned in his seat and couldn’t help but smile. His two little girls, Susie and Ruthie, were both sleeping in their respective car seats. Their faces the very definition of peace.

“Well,” Oliver whispered. “She obviously doesn’t care about the party.”

He and Elyse shared a smile.

“No, I don’t think she does,” Elyse said.

Then, after a moment of quiet between the two, where they did nothing but watch their sleeping girls, Elyse spoke.

“Are you happy, Oliver?”

“Are you kidding me?” Oliver said. “Two beautiful little girls and a gorgeous wife. What else do I need?”

She smiled. “So you are happy?”

“Happier than ever.”

SHIFT

The pain had receded to a dull ache, like someone had finished pounding on the metaphorical spike in Oliver’s head with a large hammer, maybe the one Thor was known to use. The General stood over him, an arrogant, satisfied look on his face.

“Is that what you care for, Oliver Jordan?” The General said. “Your mate and offspring? What if I were to visit them?”

“What?” Oliver said, trying to clear the cobwebs from his mind.

“What if I were to bring them here aboard my ship?”

“No.”

“I could put one of your offspring into this very chair. See how she handles the machine.”

“No, don’t.” Oliver struggled once more against the bonds that held him to the chair.

The General slapped him once across the face, causing his ears to ring.

“There are other machines on this ship, Oliver Jordan.” He slapped him again. “Machines made to induce pain. Such pain to make what you’ve felt thus far feel like the bite of one of your flies. Why, I have a machine that can take you apart and put you back together again. Imagine the agony of such a procedure, Oliver Jordan.”

“Stop.” Oliver found it hard to breathe. “I can’t help you.” The ache in Oliver’s head grew and he feared his skull would split apart.

“Imagine what such a machine could do to young Susie or Ruthie.”

“Stop.”

“Would you like to see one of them from the inside out?” He gave Oliver another slap.

“I can’t,” Oliver couldn’t think. “I don’t...”

“ComBot 3,” The General addressed one of the robots. “Find where Oliver Jordan dwells so that I may fetch one of his offspring. This one called Ruthie, she is the youngest. She will do nicely.”

“No!” Oliver screamed. “Not my little girl!”

Suddenly the pain was gone. It had vanished in an instant. A warmth spread through Oliver, covering him from head to toe as the air around him sizzled and crackled like a live electrical wire.

Then there was an explosion and Oliver suddenly found himself standing among the ruins of the chair. Something about him felt different, like he was out of proportion with the room.

The General lay sprawled on the floor among the pieces of chair. The robots too had lost their footing and lay scattered about their fallen leader, squealing their digital fear. Oliver didn’t have long to think as the General rose to his feet, looking all the while as if he’d won.

“Good.” The General said. “Now we can—”

Oliver didn’t let him finish. All he could think about was Ruthie, Susie, and Elyse. He would not allow them to suffer as he had. He would do whatever it took to prevent it. He would fight.

Oliver balled up his fist and swung it at the General, moving faster than he’d ever done before.

The General, seeing the blow coming, had been able to transform into that hulking other version of himself the instant before Oliver struck.

Oliver’s fist sounded like a thunder clap as it connected with the General’s chin, and the monster was flung from his feet to crash through the door and out into the hallway. Oliver couldn’t believe what he’d just done, the power behind such an act. He looked at his hand, still clenched into a fist, and didn’t recognize it. It was like he was wearing larger hands over his own. Then he caught his reflection in a monitor and froze. Staring back at him was the man from his dream, from the world of blue nothingness.

Yet, it was Oliver as well. He could see his eyes in the reflection, his eyes looking back at him from a stranger’s face. The perfect, physical specimen with the power to punch an alien through a door. That’s who Oliver had somehow become. This was the transformation the General had been talking about. This was why Mr. Pembleton had given him the ring.

He smiled and the reflection smiled back.





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Wednesday, September 5, 2018

TWELVE: WHERE'S OLIVER?




“WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?” Elyse Jordan said, still standing at the open front door as the two Detectives, Pryor and Dwonch, remained out on the stoop. “How can you not know what happened to my husband?”

“Mrs. Jordan,” Detective Dwonch said. “Please, if we could just come inside.”

“Yes, please, Mrs. Jordan,” said Detective Pryor. “You’d be much more comfortable inside. We can explain what we know, and your neighbors can go back to minding their own business.”

“Okay,” Elyse said, standing back to let the detectives into the house. “Okay, sure. Sorry. Please, come in.”

She showed Pryor and Dwonch to the kitchen and motioned to the table.

“Please sit and I’ll make some coffee.”

The detectives thanked her, and she bustled about with the coffee pot; pouring bottled water into the reservoir, scooping the grounds into the filter basket, and grabbing a pair of mugs as the machine puffed and spit on the counter. She placed the mugs next to the coffee maker, and turned to face the detectives.

“Where is my husband?”

The two detectives shared a look, similar to the look they had shared on the stoop.

“As we said, Mrs. Jordan,” Detective Pryor began. “We just simply don’t know.”

“Then how do you know something even happened to him? Why are you here?” Elyse had to fight with herself to avoid becoming hysterical.

“We were called in after officers responded to a call involving two Mighties engaged in some sort of altercation at a restaurant called the Pizza Dude in Waynestown,” Detective Dwonch said.

“The Pizza Dude?” the hysteria was becoming harder to keep at bay. “That’s where Oliver works. That’s where he was tonight.”

“When was the last time you spoke to your husband, Mrs. Jordan?” Detective Pryor asked.

“Two hours ago, maybe.”

“Do you know where Mr. Jordan was when you spoke last?”

“He called from his cell and said he was coming home. I assumed he was still at the Pizza Dude,” Elyse said.

“Are there any stops he might normally make on the way home, Mrs. Jordan?” asked Detective Dwonch.

“No. Look, what’s going on?” Elyse said. “Where is my husband?”

“Mrs. Jordan,” Detective Pryor said. “The Pizza Dude has been destroyed.”

“What?” Elyse said.

“There appears to be no casualties,” Detective Dwonch said. “No sign of anyone among the rubble. Only a car in the lot with its driver’s side door missing. A car registered to your husband. The car door seems to have been ripped off by something powerful. We just...”

Detectives Pryor and Dwonch shared another look.

“Mrs. Jordan,” Detective Pryor said. “Your husband seems to have disappeared.”

“No, that’s not possible. I talked to him just a couple of hours ago. I’m sure he’s just stuck at a drive-thru or something.”

“Would you mind trying his phone again, Mrs. Jordan?” Detective Dwonch said.

“Yeah, sure,” Elyse said.

She switched to speaker phone, dialed Oliver’s number, and set the phone on the table so that the detectives could listen in.

“Sorry, I’m either not available, or I just don’t feel like taking your call,” Oliver’s recorded voice warbled through the phone on the table. “Leave your name and all that other stuff and when I have a moment next year, I’ll shoot you a line or something.” Elyse disconnected before the beep sounded.

“See, it just goes to voicemail like he has his phone off or something,” Elyse said.

Detectives Pryor and Dwonch shared a quick look.

“What?” She could see something in that look. “What aren’t you telling me?”

“Mrs. Jordan,” Detective Pryor said. “When officers arrived at the Pizza Dude, they found Power Surge already on the scene.” She paused, sharing another look with her partner. “He informed the officers that he had arrived to find a large Mighty assaulting a Normal. He attempted to intervene but the Mighty disappeared with the Normal.”

“In fact,” Detective Pryor said. “Power Surge described it as some sort of energy beam that shot down from the sky in which the unsub disappeared into.”

“Unsub is short for ‘Unknown Subject’,” Detective Dwonch said.

“Yes, I know,” Elyse said. “I watch TV.”

“Of course,” Detective Dwonch said. “Sorry.”

“Okay, so what are you saying? Are you saying the Normal was my husband? Are you saying that Oliver was abducted?”

“Honestly, Mrs. Jordan, we don’t know,” Detective Dwonch said. “But Oliver is the only employee who is currently unaccounted for.”

Elyse paced the kitchen, dozens of horrible thoughts running through her head.

“What about the Mighties?” Elyse said. “What are they doing about this?”

“We spoke to Power Surge ourselves,” Detective Pryor said. “Frankly, he claims that—” She stopped and sighed. “We aren’t quite sure at this point that he’s in his right mind, but everything appears to point at something alien in origin.”

“Alien? Okay, so what does that mean?”

The two detectives shared another look.

“Would you two stop that,” Elyse snapped. “Just talk to me.”

“Well, Mrs. Jordan,” Detective Pryor said. “We feel that if your husband was the Normal the Mighty abducted then he may very well be off planet.”





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