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Chapter XXV

 

            Astronima woke to the sounds of chittering and incoherent mumblings.  Her eyes opened slowly, moving before the rest of her body.  She tried to lift herself from the floor and found her hands restrained with chains made of Ultranite.  In the first few moments since regaining consciousness, she had completely forgotten that she was Dr. 253’s prisoner. 

            For the past five days she had been a captive of her former mentor and lover.  Astronima had been stripped of her clothing and chained hand and foot to a restraining bolt in the floor of Dr. 253’s lab.  Pressure at the base of her skull reminded her of the device he had attached to her head shortly after she arrived.  The device neutralized her abilities and left her powerless.  Powerless and completely at his mercy. 

            Astronima shut her eyes and tried hard not to think of the depravities she had suffered at Dr. 253’s hands. No, not Dr. 253.  Whomever it was that had her chained to the floor of the lab wasn’t Dr. 253.  Not anymore. 

            Astronima carefully lowered her hands back to the floor, moving slowly as not to rattle the chains.  She lay still for several minutes, just in case she was being watched.  When she felt it was safe she cautiously peeked through one eye at what her captor was doing. 

            Across the lab Dr. 253 worked on one of his many partially completed projects.  He talked to himself in a continuous low monotone voice that was devoid of inflection or punctuation.  His words came out like one long random thought, occasionally interrupted with insect-like chittering and noises that were beyond human.  His hands moved constantly, putting pieces together and using various instruments.  Whatever he was building lacked his usual style and simplistic design.  Each of the incomplete projects were moderately sized and looked as if they had been cobbled together from stray pieces and not built from well designed plans. 

            Dr. 253 stopped suddenly and his head snapped over in Astronima’s direction.  The heroine closed her eye quickly.  She held her breath and waited to see if he was going to approach her.  After what seemed like minutes, she heard the tinkering begin again, and she once again peeked out at him.  Astronima shook her head softly, flinging hair over her eyes.  The strands didn’t block her view, but did shield her eyes from view.  It would make it harder for the Dr. to see if she were awake or watching him. 

            Astronima watched Dr. 253 carefully.  It wasn’t just his personality that had changed.  He was different physically as well.  He was bigger in size, more muscular.  His clothes didn’t quite fit him anymore, and the lab coat he wore was ripped in the shoulders and along his biceps.  A large tear ran down the middle of the back, from his shoulder blades to hem at the bottom.  From behind the jacket looked more like a tuxedo coat than a lab jacket.  His hands were three times their normal size and the pinky had curled up with the tip pressed against the palm.  His skin had turned two shades darker, with deep olive green hues that overly accentuated the muscles and veins like a Boris Vallejo painting.  His knees were perpetually bent, forcing him to walk with a cumbersome gait or hop to get around the lab.  His torso didn’t appear to be any longer, but he worked hunched over the lab table.  Every so often, he would shake his head violently, as if he were trying to dislodge something in his brain. 

            The quiet mumblings continued as the man who used to be Dr. 243 wired his Frankenstein machine to life.  His voice elevated to a “Eureka” pitch, and the talking stopped.  The man-creature hobbled its way over to where Astronima was on the floor, carrying the device with him.  Completed, the patchwork creation was the size of a car engine and looked like it was born from the hybrid imagination of Geoff Darrow and H.R. Giger.  The new Dr. set the ugly machine on the floor in front of Astronima and stared at the two of them. 

            The Dr. kicked the naked heroine hard in the stomach and said something in garbled English that she couldn’t make out.  The kick pushed her backwards across the floor.  The only thing that stopped her slide were the chains that bound her to the floor.  The chain links pulled tight and jerked her to a halt.

            The Dr. let out a twisted, graveled laugh and licked his lips.  He clopped over between Astronima and the device and knelt down.  He pulled her hair out of her face and looked at her bruised but still beautiful face.  He stared at her for the longest time, his eyes meeting hers.  Slowly his eyes strayed away and began following the smooth lines of her flesh.  His fingers followed seconds behind where his eyes had been.  The man-creature licked its lips again and rolled Astronima over so that he could see her from the front. 

            Before the beast-like man could commence another round of depraved torture he howled and started to shake his head again.  His hands left Astronima’s skin and gripped the sides of its head in pain.  The creature jerked its head back and forth.  Words spilled from its lips, ranging from mumbles to squeals, none of which were discernable as intelligent speech. 

            Dr. 253 reached behind himself and pushed the crude looking button on the device.  The machine produced an earsplitting screech that seemed to cause him more pain than he was already in.  The man-creature fell completely to its knees and cried out.  Blood began to run from Dr. 253’s nose.  Green at first, then red. 

            Astronima tried as best she could to cover her ears and protect herself from the noise.  As loud as the noise was, it seemed to hurt the Dr. more than it did her.  Astronima had to curl her body up on the floor to provide enough slack in the chains so that she could cover her ears and still watch what was happening to her tormentor. 

            The man-creature threw a hand behind itself towards the device.  It was able to smack the machine away, but not stop the noise.  The device skittered along the floor before smashing into a workstation and splintering into its separate compiled pieces.  The noise stopped, but the pain didn’t. 

            The Dr. 253 monster continued to scream.  It tossed its head back and cried at the ceiling.  The beast continued to scream until there was no air left in its lungs. 

            The Dr.’s arms dropped to its sides and its head lopped to the left.  Soon the body followed and he fell over in a heap. 

            Astronima wanted to reach out to him to see if he was dead, but was afraid to move.  She laid there in fear, her hands still over her ears, unsure of what to do. 

            The Dr.’s body twitched, and his legs spasmed.  Slowly, he began to move, and sat up on the cold floor.  He was dazed, and disoriented.  He tried to push himself further upright and almost fell back down to the floor.  Dr. 253 stayed in his current position for several minutes, trying to gather his strength. 

            The hero scientist tried again to sit up, this time with more success.  He sat up straight, and immediately put his hands out on the floor to stabilize himself.  Slowly his head turned and surveyed the wreckage of what was once his lab.  In his discombobulated state, it took him several more minutes before he noticed Astronima laying naked before him. 

            Dr. 253’s eyes grew wide with shock and confusion.  He didn’t move to free her.  He merely stared at her for the better part of a minute. 

            “Valerie?” Dr. 253 asked, as if he wasn’t even sure of her name. 

            Astronima looked into Dr. 253’s eyes.  They were normal.  His pupils were no longer dilated and the irises had returned to their normal color.  She didn’t say anything back to him.  She just continued to stare at his eyes.  They were his, but at the same time, they weren’t.  They weren’t the eyes of the beast anymore, but they weren’t Dr. 253’s either.  There was something different about the way he looked at her.  She saw something else in his gaze.  Emotion. 

            “Anthony?” Astronima finally answered. 

            “Wha- What the hell happened here?”  Dr. 253’s eyes went from her to the lab and back again.  He was lost. 

            “You don’t remember?” Valerie asked. 

            “I don’t…”  Dr. 253 realized that he and Astronima were the only people in the lab. “Did I do this?” 

            Anthony’s eyes begged for some kind of explanation.  He needed to know what had happened.  What was going on.  He looked to Valerie for answers.  She could only stare back.  Her face was a mixture of emotions, from fear, to relief, to distrust. 

            Dr. 253 could see it in her face.  She was scared of him.  He had no idea of what had transpired, but whatever it was, had caused Astronima to distrust him.  Then it hit him.  In all the time he had been staring at her, he hadn’t noticed the chains around her wrists and ankles. 

            “Chains?” he questioned aloud, not wanting to believe his eyes.  “You’re chained.” 

            Dr. 253 began to cry. 

            “Valerie, I don’t know what’s going on.” 

            Astronima pulled herself up and slid closer to the ring bolt in the floor.  She was able to rise to a kneeling position. 

            “It’s okay.” Valerie said.  She opened her arms as wide as she could and invited him in. 

            Anthony crawled across the floor and found comfort in her embrace.  He hugged her tight and sobbed against her breast.  Valerie started to cry, too.  She realized at that moment that he had been a victim of whatever had possessed him as well.  The two of them had both suffered at the hands of whatever had taken a hold of him.  They were both playthings for the creature’s perverse pleasure. 

            Valerie squeezed him tighter.  At least she knew what had happened, and as much as she didn’t want to think about what she had been subjected to, she knew that there was some relief in knowing.  Eventually she would get over it and come through as a stronger person.  For Anthony, Dr. 253, his life would never be the same.  Not only had his physical appearance changed, but he was missing entire weeks of his life.  A chunk of his being was gone, and there was no telling what he had done during that time, or who he had done it to.  There was no redemption for actions that you aren’t even conscious of doing.  Who knows what repercussions there might be for the things done during those missing days. 

            For Valerie, Astronima, her nightmare was over.  For Dr. 253, his was just beginning. 

*****

 

            “Where were you?” Diamond Dog spat between gritted teeth.  He grabbed Guru and slammed him against the damp brick wall of the underground passage.  His quartz exoskeleton covered his entire body save for his face. 

            “Look at us!  Little Ghost is dead!  We’ve all been beaten!  Our home is destroyed!  And you were nowhere to be found!” 

            Guru remained calm.  There was deep sense of pain and regret in his eyes that DD couldn’t see through his own anger.  Guru had done the only thing he could, and now, he had to live with the consequences of his actions.  And, for the second time in his life, those actions had cause pain to someone other than himself.  Despite all that he had done, all that he had tried to do, to Guru it seemed that all he was capable of doing was bringing pain to those around him. 

            “I’m sorry.”  It was all Guru could say.  He wanted to say more, but those were the only words that would come out. 

            “Sorry?!” DD repeated.  “All you can say is ‘sorry’?  We thought you cared about us!  We thought that we meant something to you, but when we needed you most, you were gone.  Gone!  And all you can offer is ‘sorry’?“ 

            Guru didn’t answer.  He stared at the older teenager with eyes pleading for understanding.  He glanced around the dimly lit tunnel at the other faces looking for compassion.  There was none to be found. 

            Guru’s silence pushed Diamond Dog’s anger up another level. 

            “I’ll show you sorry!” 

            Diamond Dog swung a crystal covered fist at Guru’s head.  Guru held up his hand and blocked the punch.  Unseen force from Guru’s hand pushed back against DD’s quartz protected hand.  DD’s hand was momentarily held in place by the rebuffing of his punch against Guru’s power.  Guru thrust his other hand forward, sending shockwaves of invisible force at Diamond Dog’s chest.  In his weakened state, the older boy couldn’t protect himself against the defensive attack.  The waves of force hit his quartz shell and shattered it.  The crystals cracked and cascaded outwards in a ripple effect, crumbling the protective covering.   The quartz shell broke into pebble sized pieces and fell away from the teenager’s body. 

            Diamond Dog stumbled back.  He was shocked and angry, but unable to do anything about either.  He was too weak to fight Guru, or produce another layer of quartz.  In truth he didn’t want to fight him.  DD was scared and angry.  More than anything, he was angry at himself.  He felt responsible for what had happened earlier that night. 

            DD blamed himself for the destruction of the Factory, and more to the point, Little Ghost’s death.  He looked over at Blue, who still held the young girl’s body cradled against her.  She hadn’t stopped crying since it happened.  Since Black Sunshine had killed her sister. 

            Black Sunshine, the boy Diamond Dog had pushed to the point that he wanted to kill not only Diamond Dog, but everyone in their house. 

            Diamond Dog couldn’t help but be taken back to the events that had forced him to runaway in the beginning.  The fight with Yvette’s father.  It had all happened again.    

            “Everyone, please…” Guru began.  “What just happened was traumatic for all of us.  I know I should have been there, and I’m sorry I wasn’t, but now isn’t the time to talk about this.” 

            Guru looked around the faces of the children before him.  They weren’t children anymore.  These young men and women had been given a crash course in the harsh realities of adulthood.  Any vestige of innocence had been washed away in the blood that each of them had shed.  He had forced them to become young soldiers in the war of their lives.  To abandon their childlike ways and steel themselves to the truth about the world they lived in. 

            Though neither of them knew it, both Guru and Diamond Dog shared the same guilt, and shouldered the blame for everything that had happened.  Each believed themselves to be the harbinger of pain and destruction to others.  Their past actions following them like ghosts.  They felt destined to be haunted for the rest of their lives. 

            “I promise to explain, but not now.  We’re still not safe.”  Guru pleaded with the teenagers.  “Please, just trust me.”

            The group of teenagers looked at one another in the dimness of the tunnel.  Each looked to the other before turning to Diamond Dog to decide for them.  He didn’t meet their stares; he looked away, staring at the wall. 

            DD glanced at Electric Blue, who simply stared down at the girl in her arms. 

            “Ok.” DD replied. 

            Guru nodded and the group began walking through the tunnel once again. 

*****

            The door to the examination room slid open with a hushed whisper of moving air.  General Lawton walked into the room and headed for the table where Major Tom stood. 

            On the table before him were the remains of the Kenneth monster that had terrorized Future City.  The body was suspended above the table by hooks and wires.  The head and limbs had been removed from the torso and were on the table, separated like pieces of beef. 

            Mechanical arms from the ceiling moved at Major Tom’s command, slicing open the organs and pulling them apart.  Major Tom controlled the arms with a spherical remote that hovered in his hands.  He twirled the ball between his palms, and his fingers touched invisible points that activated the lasers and micro scalpels. 

            General Lawton watched for a while before interrupting the balletic surgical performance. 

            “Well?” 

            Major Tom ignored him and continued working. 

            “Look, Tomaskarian-“ The General began, calling Major Tom by his real name. “This silent lone-gunman act may have worked with General Hadding, but I won’t stand for it.  You work for the United States military and you need to respect the chain of command.  You will respect me.” 

            Major Tom continued on with the dissection, never acknowledging the general’s presence. 

            “Goddamn alien…” Lawton began, but didn’t get a chance to finish.  Arms from the examination table reached out and grabbed the general by the collar of his jacket.  They pulled him closer to the examination table.  The smell of the dead rotting alien made his throat fill with bile.  A micro scalpel arm and mini-laser slithered out from the ceiling and hovered before General Lawton’s face. 

            The micro scalpel placed itself next to the carotid artery.  The mini-laser moved along his face and began expertly shaving off the overgrown hairs around the general’s moustache.  General Lawton was trapped in the deadly machine’s grip.  

            Major Tom didn’t look over at the man.  He operated the mechanical arms while his focus remained on the alien body.  Robotic arms performed their duties on both subjects independently, but only one subject held the alien hero’s attention. 

            “First off – yes I am an alien.” Major Tom spoke.  His voice was like the stillness in the eye of a storm.  He was a force to be reckoned with and cautious of, without being overtly threatening.   

            “Second, I do not work for you or your government.  I sought out an organization with the power to preserve its own life.  Yours was not quite there, but was the closest among everyone on Earth.  I am here to work with your world against a mutual threat.  Third, I resent the need of your government to assign a ‘handler’ to me as if I am some kind of child.  Hadding understood this and our ‘relationship’ worked well with this fore knowledge.  Lastly, I do not know you, nor do I wish to.  I do not need your respect, and neither will I give any.  Know this, you will never refer to me by my true name neither in private or in public.  If you feel the need to address me, you may call me Major, Tom, or Major Tom.  It would be in your best interest, though, for any further communications between us to be handled via a liaison.  I do not wish for you to be in my presence again.  This would be for your own safety.  Now, as for why you’ve come here…” 

            The mechanical arms released the general after perfectly trimming his moustache and beard.  General Lawton loosened his collar and breathed heavily.  He took several steps away from Major tom, moving back towards the door.  His rubber soled shoes squeaked on the tile floor as he moved away from the puddle he had made next to the exam table. 

            ‘I’ve examined the creature’s organs.  Parts of it are still human in appearance, but the DNA signature matches that of the Cycksiks.  It is the original Terror IX.”

            “What do you mean, original Terror IX?” General Lawton questioned. 

            Major Tom huffed in annoyance.  He had only adopted a few of Earth’s customs and mannerisms.  Displaying his anger and frustration were one of them. 

            ‘If you had studied the files instead of merely filing them away, you would know that encounters the Earth has had with extraterrestrial life have been given Terror level designations.  The first being Terror I, my arrival to your planet.  Since that time, I have helped your government combat ten Terror level events.  The Cycksiks were number nine.  It took the combined might of several of the world’s heroes to stop them.”   

            “So, you’re saying Terror IX is back?”

            “Yes.  Colonel Courageous and I were able to halt their conquest previously by destroying the jump gate they had assimilated from another race.  It was presumed this would stop them.  Apparently, we presumed wrong.” 

              “If their jump gate was destroyed, then how are they getting on Earth?”  General Lawton tried to take control of the meeting and assert himself as the alpha in the room.  Prior to being assigned to Major Tom, Lawton had served as Special Field Commander in four official military campaigns, and Operations Commander on countless black-ops.  Even still, the thought of alien invasion made his palms sweat. 

            “Unknown.  What I do know, is that they are gestating inside human hosts.  This is why some of their organs are still human in appearance and function, while the DNA is primarily Cycksiks.  They are taking you over from the inside.” 

            “My God.” 

            “I would suggest you call Dr. 253.  It’s been my observation that your God isn’t as reliable as he is.”

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