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Chapter XXVIII

 

            Guru found the house unexpectedly quiet upon his return.  The groan and squeak of the freight elevator was twice as loud in the still air.  It was too quiet for him to be alarmed, but still he wondered.  The sounds of stealthy shuffling interrupted the quiet.  The clang of the elevator gate made it impossible for him to enter the room unannounced, so he readied himself for whatever was waiting. 

 

            No one, friend or foe, greeted Guru as he slammed the elevator gate shut.  He listened for the quiet shuffling and heard more coming from around the corner.  Whomever or whatever it was making the noise wasn’t daunted by his arrival.  The older man moved around the corner cautiously, but was still not concerned.  His right eyebrow raised as he saw Diamond Dog on his hands and knees looking behind the bookshelf. 

            “There aren’t any secret passages, if that’s what you’re looking for.” Guru said in his calm voice. 

            Diamond Dog jumped as the sound of Guru’s voice snuck up behind him. 

            “Jesus!” the teenage boy jumped back from the bookshelf, almost knocking it over in the process.  “You just scared the hell out of me.”   

            “What were you looking for?”

            “I thought there might be a dead rat or something around here.”  DD reclined against the wall, his hand on his chest, and tried to steady his pounding heart.  His legs felt like butter in a frying pan; slowly melting underneath him. 

            “Calm down.” Guru said.  “Relax.  Take deep breaths.”  His words echoed those he had told DD a hundred times before during a training session.  It was no wonder the older boy was on edge.  It hadn’t been a full day since they were attacked by the Hell Spawns.  Guru knew the feeling all too well from past experiences.  It would be several days before Diamond Dog could fully relax and stop looking over his shoulder. 

            “Here.  Have a seat on the couch.” 

            Guru guided DD to the couch.  He collapsed into the enveloping cushions and immediately began to succumb to their comforts.  His eyes closed, and the sleep he had been fighting for hours started to take the hill. 

            DD sat up and shook his head, temporarily forcing the sandman and his army to retreat.  He scooted back along the marshmallow soft seats until his back met against the hard support of the couch arm.  

            “I take it everything went okay?” 

            Guru nodded softly.  He took a seat in a chair at the opposite end of the couch.  His body hit the chair a little harder than he intended, not realizing just how tired he was, too. 

            “Yeah.”  He couldn’t think of anything else to say about the matter.  “Yeah.” 

            The two sat in silence, both waiting for the other to speak, but hoping they wouldn’t.  The silence was unbearable, despite what some dark haired, page-boy cut cutie from the movies might say.  The silence was like a gun in the face.  They both wanted it to end, but was afraid of what the other might say. 

 

            Guru took the lead. “How are the others?” 

            “Sleeping.” DD’s words were short and blunt.  The feelings he had pushed down earlier suddenly came rushing to the surface.  He was angry again, but tried not to let it show.  In truth, he wanted to understand.  He wanted a good explanation, something he could believe and would make him forgive.  That made him even more angry, but this time at himself.

            “Most of them knocked out right after you left.  Crash woke up screaming once.  He levitated everything in the bedroom.  Broke one of your lamps.” 

            “The blue one?” 

            “Uh-uh.  It was white.  White with a picture of something carved in the base.” 

            “Oh.” Guru replied, recognizing the broken fixture.  “That one’s ivory.  The blue one’s made out of topaz.  Oh well.” 

            DD’s brow furrowed at Guru’s nonchalant manner.  He wanted to ask him where all of the stuff came from.  How could he afford it?  Why was he living in that concrete and steel factory when he had a place like this in the city?  He wanted to ask, but didn’t. 

            “Headwires is…  I don’t know what to call it.  One of the Hell Spawns tried to…”  He couldn’t’ bring himself to say the words.  “Beat her pretty good before she could get him off of her.  I don’t know what to do.” 

            “You’re doing everything you can.”  Guru leaned forward, making an attempt to close the distance between the two of them. 

            “They see that.  They know you care.” 

            Diamond Dog shrugged his shoulders. 

            “What about you?  You drink anything?”

            “Two bottled waters and a Gatorade.” 

            “Have you eaten?”

            DD shook his head no. 

            “You get any sleep?” 

            “You were only gone for a few hours.  Where did you go, anyway?” 

Diamond Dog noticed Guru leaning forward and moved to the middle of the couch.  His body sank into the supple cushions of the couch back. 

            “First General hospital on the far side of town.  That’s where they take the people from Yesterday Town.” 

            “What did you tell them?” DD found the situation too surreal to believe. 

            “I went to check on my property because I had some perspective buyers.  Found the place in ruin and her body lying on the ground.  I told them that I don’t have a signal on my cell out there, and that I thought she might still be alive, so I rushed her to the hospital.  The police questioned me for a bit.  They were hesitant to let me go, but I convinced them that I wasn’t involved.  At least for the time being.” 

            “Think they’ll come here to ask you some more questions?” DD asked. 

            “Definitely.” 

            “What do we do?  Are we gonna move to another place?”  DD was suddenly nervous about the situation.  He feared that the cops would find them all there, and the truth would come out.  The truth about how Little Ghost died.  They would all be held to blame and sent to the Locker. 

            His fears were unfounded.  None of the kids from the Factory had anything to worry about.  Guru, on the other hand, had every reason to be nervous. 

            “We’ll all be fine.  Trust me.  I can handle all of this.”  Guru’s calm voice belied the nervousness in his stomach. 

            “Trust you?” questioned Diamond Dog.  “I’m not sure I can do that.  Yet.” 

            “I understand.”    

            “You owe me an explanation.” Diamond Dog said in an assertive tone.. 

            “Yes.  I do.” 

            “What is all of this?  How did… Where…  Who are you?’  Diamond Dog could barely get the words out.  The mystery man that took him off the streets, that he put his trust and well being in the hands of, had a secret.  As absurd as it sounded, Diamond Dog felt betrayed. 

            “Until recently, I hadn’t been here in a long time.  Years, actually.” 

            Guru glanced around the room.  It was still as posh and beautiful as it was when he used to call it his home.  It wasn’t his home anymore. 

            “This.  All of this.” He said, waving a hand around the room.  “Is a reminder of a former life.  A life I never should have lived.  It’s the successful trappings of the fall of a man’s soul.” 

           

            Diamond Dog’s anger slowly turned to curiosity.  It was clear that the building, the furnishing – the lamp – meant nothing to him; not anymore.  If anything, they were a knife in the chest.  A painful reminder of a life he couldn’t forget. 

            DD couldn’t help but probe further. 

            “So, what did you use to do?” 

            “You already know the answer to that question.”  Guru slid back into the chair.  “You just don’t want to admit it to yourself.”   

            The room went silent again, as neither man spoke.  DD simply stared at the older man. 

            “Why don’t you go check on the others.  Make sure Celia is okay.”  Guru said, breaking the silence once again. 

            DD nodded once and pulled himself from the addicting comforts of the couch.  Guru stopped him as he started to pass. 

            “When I came in – What were you looking for again?” 

            “I don’t know. A dead rat, or bird, or something.” 

            “Why would you think there’s a dead animal in the house?” 

            “I was walking through, and there was this horrible smell.  Thought maybe something had gotten in and died.”  

            “Horrible smell?  Like what”

            “Kinda hard to describe.  Smelled like burnt hair and motor oil, or something.” 

            Guru was speechless.  Johnny Wonder had come back to visit.  The end was closer than he thought. 

 

*****

 

            “Gentlemen.”  Colonel Courageous said as he entered the military complex. 

 

            Inside the underground bunker Major Tom and Dr. 253 were hard at work comparing notes on their encounters with the Cycksiks.  The two had thought it best to bring Colonel Courageous in and help with the plan before calling for Clockworx , the other member of their secret quartet.  

            The Colonel slid the door behind him shut as he approached the others.  His shoulders were square, head held high, and eyes narrow as he strode over to Major Tom.  Tom rose to greet him, and the two men locked eyes. 

            “You and I have unfinished business, Tom.” 

            “I will never understand the ego you humans possess.  You think that every one owes you something.”  Major Tom said in his affectless voice that was two degrees warmer than a computer. 

            “You owe me something.  Answers!  What was that business back in Future City?  How long have you known?  How long?!”  The Colonel leaned in as he barked his questions at the alien he sometimes called friend. 

            Major Tom’s hand slid to the handle of his gun, holstered on his right hip.  His eyes stayed fixed on the Colonel’s the whole time.  He saw them when they lowered, the iris’s turned three shades lighter, and a warm sensation began to grow at his stomach. 

            ‘Try it.” snapped Colonel Courageous.  “I’ll burn a whole through your alien heart before you can pull it out.” 

 

            Dr. 253 jumped from his chair and pushed between the two men.  He forced them both apart with his hands and held them at bay.  The Colonel was forced to take two steps back to keep from being knocked down.  He looked over the new Dr. 253.  He didn’t condemn or approve of his new image, he just stared in shock.  He had changed a lot more since their meeting weeks earlier. 

            “Doc.  You look worse than before.  What have you done to yourself?” 

            “It’s not what I’ve done, but what was done to me.  Now, if you’ll sit down we can discuss this and fill you in on what been going on.” 

            Dr. 253 looked to both men for agreement before taking his seat at the computer again. 

            The Colonel and Tom glared at each other a little longer before joining the doctor.  The Colonel stood while Tom resumed his seat. 

            “I already know a little.” The Colonel began before being interrupted by Major Tom. 

            “You know nothing.” 

            “Tom!”  snapped the Colonel. 

            “Stop it, both of you!” Dr. 253 spat.  He was getting very irritated.  There was more at stake than bruised egos and a lack of alien social skills. 

            “And he’s right, Gary.” Dr. 253 said, calling Colonel Courageous by his real name.  “You don’t know anything.” 

            Dr. 253 took a deep breath.  He counted from ten slowly in his mind.  His merging with the Cycksiks left more than a physical change to him.  His mind was changed as well.  The test he had run showed that his brain was healing itself, faster than he had expected, and that he would be back to his enhanced intellectual faculties within a few weeks.  But, his mental state was another matter all together. 

            The alien also left behind its yearning for base desires.  The doctor could feel a hunger for physical violence, gluttony, and lust growing within him.  He had denied that part of himself for so long, over run by his intellectual self, that these feels were almost brand new to him.  He recognized them like images from a dream.  Like déjà vu.  Had he ever really felt them before, or just thought that he had?  Either way, they were here now, and he would have to learn how to control them. 

 

            Dr. 253 blew out the air he held and focused on the computer before him. 

            “Tom had a reason for not talking to you that night, Gary.  He was sure that the Cycksiks were back on Earth, but he had no idea how.  He didn’t know if it they were sleepers from our first encounter lying in wait, or what.  Some kind of implantation, maybe?  He didn’t know.  Given the extent of your wounds that night, had it been implantation he didn’t know if you could be trusted.” 

            “Hmm.”  The Colonel looked at Major Tom.  His eyes softened a bit, but he didn’t apologize.  “So, you had encountered others before that night?” 

            “None that had gone through a complete metamorphosis, but yes, there were others.  They had started showing their true nature sooner than your opponent.   Based on the information gathered during its dissection, I believe its transformation was hindered by its indulgence in drugs and alcohol.  The excessive combination retarded its progression.” 

            Major Tom ran his fingers along the touch screen controls and produced multiple of various subjects both pre and post dissection.  There were four individual subjects shown, not including the Kenneth alien.  None of the four had progressed as far as the final stage Kenneth alien in their transmutation. 

            The Colonel gave one of the images his full attention; a woman around the age of sixty.  Her body contradicted her age and overall appearance.  She was nearly as long and as wide as the examining table her body was lying on.  The yellowish hue of her skin was like someone suffering from jaundice.  Even from the digital image the Colonel could see the musculature under her skin had started restricting itself.  The normally looser, wrinkled skin was stretched tight like plastic wrap covering meat, showing every bulbous cord of fibrous tissue. 

            Dr. 253 noticed the Colonel interest and expanded the image to fully screen; pictures of her dissection were inset on the right hand side. 

            “Lorraine McAllister, UK.” Dr. 253 narrated.  “According to her physiology, she was a week into the transformation.”    

            “The Cycksiks beamed one of them into her?” 

            Dr. 253 was puzzled by the Colonel’s question.  The fact that he knew the Cycksiks were transporting themselves via energy waves caught him off guard.  He dismissed the thought and continued on. 

            “Yes.  Due to her age and health, this one had no problems taking over her body.  Judging by the cross sections of her brain, it had complete control over her within twenty four hours.  In another week, it would have completely reformed her body into a hybrid of theirs.” 

            “They appear to being transporting their kind at random.” Major Tom added.  “Everyone on Earth is fair game.” 

            “Except me.” Colonel Courageous said defiantly.    

            “The human ego once again.” retorted Tom. 

            “Enough!” Again the doctor had to step in and diffuse the situation before it got out of hand.  Something in him wanted to beat some civility into them.  He swallowed hard and pushed the impulse to the back of his mind. 

            “I was listening to deep space vibration harmonic when I accidentally intercepted one of the signals.  From my own experience, and Tom’s research, we’ve determined that they can’t beam directly to Earth.  For one, their physiology is not compatible with our atmosphere.  They’re unable to breathe and process our air properly.  It’s too oxygen rich.” 

            The Colonel stepped back from the monitors and looked at the two heroes.  Tom and the doctor turned to face him. 

            “I remember from before, Doc.  I had a similar problem on their world.” The Colonel interjected.  “Trust me, our first encounter is not something I’m likely to forget.” 

            “Then in that, we have a commonality.” Major Tom spoke.  His cold voice left his words flat and without meaning.  The Colonel understood what he was saying.  The Cycksiks were the enemy, not each other.   

            “Two.” Dr. 253 continued.  “The beams are being sent randomly.  Their firing at any energy signature they can lock onto.  We believe that if they had a way of targeting their device, they would go for a larger, more powerful being.” 

            “Like me.” The Colonel chimed in. 

            “Precisely.  They do retain some of the physical attributes of their host, such as age and any afflictions.  The Lorraine alien didn’t put up much of a fight.”  

            “Mine certainly did.  He seemed stronger than the ones I fought before.  And then they were the wings…” 

            “That’s something we’re not entirely sure about, but we have a theory.” The doctor said.  He spun back around to the computer.  He moved the large picture of Lorraine to an inset on the side with the others.  He replaced it with another picture of the elderly woman, this time with her skin removed. 

            “When I started the dissection,” Tom began.  “I noticed that the skin peeled away from the incision.  I continued to peel the skin back, and this is what I found.” 

            The Colonel stared at the image.  The tissue underneath the skin wasn’t raw flesh, but fully formed skin. 

            “Skin under skin?  I don’t understand.” 

            Dr. 253 clarified the meaning of the picture.  “Human’s have several layers of skin, and we shed the skin as we grow.  The new layer of skin must be as tough as the existing outer layer before the outer layer will peel.  If it peels too soon, let’s say from a burn, the layer beneath is raw and sensitive until it can toughen up.  What we’re looking at here isn’t a second layer of human skin.  It’s alien.” 

            “Like the one you fought.” Added Major Tom. 

            The Colonel’s furrowed brow told the doctor he wasn’t getting through.    

            “Think of it like a butterfly cocoon.  Instead of spinning the outer shell to protect it during its metamorphosis, it uses the host, Lorraine, as its outer shell.  Once the transformation is complete, it simply sheds the skin, and out comes the new Cycksiks.” 

            “Because they are growing inside of that person, there is some adaptation in their final stage.”   

            “Adaptation?” questioned the Colonel.  “You mean like the wings?  What else?” 

            Major Tom and Dr. 253 looked at each other, then at the Colonel Courageous. 

            “We don’t know.” Answered the doctor. 

            “If your memory of them is as vivid as you claim, then you also remember how they operate?” said Major Tom.  “The Cycksiks have discovered a new form of technology, more than likely scavenged from some race they’ve conquered.  Destroying that device will stop them from beaming to Earth.”   

            “So, the plan is the same as before?  We go there, destroy their big machine, and then come home?” 

            Dr. 253 looked up at Major Tom.  He couldn’t say the words himself, nor look at Colonel Courageous as they were spoken. 

            “No.  This time the plan is to exterminate them.  All of them.” 

            The Colonel’s eyes lowered to Dr. 253.  His friend had been altered forever by their attack.  Even if he found a way to return his body back to normal, there was no way to erase the mental anguish he suffered during his possession.  His eyes traveled to the images on the monitor. 

            Lorraine McAllister.  She was someone wife.  Mother.  Grandmother. 

            The Colonel looked back at his friends with a steel eyed gaze that said his next words were with true conviction, and not just emotion. 

            “Damn right we are.” 

 

 

 

 

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