miles smiled, raised his hands, and quipped, "I come in peace.''
The marines froze for a split second, then fell back, raising their carbines, and began firing. As miles dove for the deck, heat filled the air, and the marines vanished. miles looked up just in time to see a giant robot disappear.
The marines were still gone, only their half-melted carbines showing they had been there. This was not going to help his position with Spaf.
Who, incidentally, now reappeared in the doorway. He held an electronic device in one hand, an MP5 machine pistol in the other. ``Stop that!'' he commanded.
``Too late,'' lamented miles. ``I never started.''
``Then where are the marines?''
``Gone.'' miles shrugged. ``The air was hot, there was a flash of light, and they were gone. I could have sworn there was a robot, but then it was gone, too.''
``There was a robot,'' Spaf confirmed. He put away the gun, pulled off his Stetson, and twirled it abswently on a finger. ``I'm pretty sure it's Gort.''
``Gort? You mean like in the movie? A real Gort?''
``You betcha. Only no space alien. Just some whacko electronics tech from Nawleans and a burned out, has-been named Howard who wants to take us back to the days when vacuum tubes ruled the earth. Not that he has a chance. But I hear you're into vaccuum tubes...''
As miles and Spaf looked at each other in distrust, an old song began playing over the boat's intercom. Love me tender, love me true...
Spaf shot the speaker and spat in disgust. That mess starts every time Gort shows up. I think we should rename this boat, "Ghost of Elvis". As he waved his left hand, more marines appeared. ``Put him in 13A. Maybe it's a lucky number for him.''
Marching as directed with a gun in his back, miles mulled it all over. ``What did he mean, lucky for me?''
One of the guards answered. ``Not so lucky for the last two squids who bunked there. Elvis music drove them crazy.''
``Probably the subliminal insults and swearing,'' replied miles.
``He's right,'' observed Commander Ned. snacking on corn tortillas smothered in krill. ``We never noticed before, but analysis of all recorded samples shows a constant stream of invective so foul even the nastiest sailor can't stand it.''
Spaf stared at the monitor. miles lay on his bunk, apparently oblivious to the music and its subliminal sewage undercurrent. ``He's been on usenet too many years. Nothing will faze him.''
Naturally, the universe immediately decided to prove him a liar.
Gort appeared and miles dove from the bunk. As the lights on Gort's visor cycled, a heat ray melted the spot where miles had lain. A voice from the air whispered nastily, ``Keep your mouth shut, or next time we won't miss.'' The intercom music switched from "Jailhouse Rock" to "In the Ghetto". The walls turned red from the vile, subliminal content.
Staring at the monitor, the Commander swore. ``So he is one of them!''
Spaf shook his head. ``That's what they want us to think. I don't know what he is, but he's not that. Still, why take chances?'' He pressed a button, there was a faint, sticky sweet odor in 13A, and miles was soon fast asleep.
At the business end of the sub, a pair of admirals watched the school of tarpon floating lazily past the thick, quartz windows. ``Just like the Seaview on that old TV show,'' the large one noted.
``Speaking of which, Willie, what ever happened to the Krazny Oktobrfezt? I heard it disappeared down near Oz.''
``Dunno, Rick. I'm pretty sure that WD-40 magnate was involved, though. Probably destroyed all the controls and left it floundering.''
``That crazy guy!!! We oughta take him out!!!! You know, What I mean!!!!''
Willie waved his hand disgustedly. ``Yeah, yeah. Ya know, that little snot's not worth the effort. Besides, if he really was involved, I'm sure the crew would have cleaned his clock... What's that?''
He pointed at the tarpon. He punched buttons, and a holograph of the fish appeared in front of the viewport. As he zoomed in on two of them, Admiral Koerner gasped. ``Those two have antennae!!!!!!!'' He grabbed a handset. ``Battle stations!!! Battle stations!!! This is not a drill!!!!!!!! Torpedo rooms report immediately!!!!'' A klaxon started hooting, but they could still hear Elvis faintly beneath the horn.
``Not a good sign,'' Willie muttered. ``Not a good sign at all.''
Pete was miserable in the Stealth Tarpon Suit[tm]. For the hundredth time, he wondered where drwow had gotten them, and for the hundredth time decided he was probably glad he didn't know. He could probably be shot for just wearing the suit; knowing anything about it could get him shot twice.
He glanced over at Lupi. Lupi waggled a fin encouragingly, and signed with his dorsal. Don't worry, just keep your eyes on that boat. miles is in there.
Pete wondered for again (probably the hundredth time, he thought) how Lupi knew. But that was probably just as bad to ask...
Lupi sighed. Or tried to. The breathing gear resisted. Stupid stealth rebreather. Lupi didn't care where the gear came from. He just knew that mr x from the other newsgroup had assured him through drwow that it would get the job done. Distractedly, he shoved aside another female who seemed to be interested in him, or who she thought he was. Stupid fish! Couldn't they tell synthetics from scales?
Suddenly his attention went to the heads up display. He waggled for Pete's attention, and they both glanced at the sub. Neither had paid attention to the faint klaxon noises, but the torpedo tube doors opening were harder to ignore.
With a burst of bubbles, torpedos lunged from two of the four open doors, straight towards them. The real fish scattered; Pete and Lupi hung like targets at a shooting range.
Scrolling through menu items, neither Lupi nor Pete could find any counter-measures. But suddenly, a small, gray and black submarine with fins like bat wings flashed between them and the larger sub. The torpedos impacted, and the explosion ripped the area nearby, smacking into the fake fish like an angry bulldozer. As they floated in a partial stupor, a dolphin swam up close. ``Those crime-fighters gave their lives for you. Don't let it be in vain.'' It dropped a remote control device of some sort and swam away.
``What was that?'' BoB demanded.
mr x mulled his readouts. ``Hard to say. Superheroes and dolphins and torpedos. It all seems vaguely familiar. According to the readouts, our boys are dazed but OK.'' He pressed two buttons, sending strong stimulants (or perhaps shocks; he couldn't recall) through the tarpon suits. ``That should get them going, again.'' And it did.
Kent moseyed towards the guard shack. Moseyed, indeed. Why had he volunteered for this? And why did he have to dress like a Texan? Stupid hat. Stupid boots. Stupid belt buckle. Oh, well, at least it wasn't a gig, so he didn't have to play a Telecaster instead of a Les Paul. He reached the guard booth. ``Howdy! Nice day!''
The guard looked bored inside the air conditioned booth. It was nice enough in the booth, but about 140 degrees outside. He pressed the intercom switch. ``What is your business here?'' Then he looked more alert, if more befuddled. ``And how'd you get here in this heat with no car?''
Kent grinned. An excellent question. One he'd have asked in the other's boots. Death Valley at noon on a summer day wasn't a common place to find pedestrians. ``Wall, pahdnuh, I walked. It was about 10 degrees warmer when I left Lubbock last month; I'm right glad it cooled off.''
The guard wasn't having any of it. A plexiglass cylinder came down around Kent, and armed robots appeared on all sides. ``Now that wasn't very neighborly...''
The guard sneered. ``Neither is lying like a Texan with a yankee accent!'' A hum vee roared over the nearby dunes and slid to a stop, spraying sand across the plexiglass. The cylinder dissolved, but the robots remained. ``Step into the vehicle,'' the guard ordered. Kent shrugged and obeyed. He wanted in, and this way was as good as any. A gate went up. The hummer raced through. Kent glanced at the sign. ``Empty Bottle Research. No Deposit, No Return.''
``That sound ominous,'' he thought out loud.
``Only because it is,'' replied the driver. Kent went rigid. That voice!
The driver peered around at Kent, all sideburns and thick, black hair. ``Welcome to Elvis's Rolls Royce!''
The guard stared straight ahead, eyes unseeing. The day's second, unexpected visitor pocketed the green, polystyrene pyramid through which he'd channeled the mental energy to stun the guard. Oblivious to the microscopic people on its surface, he went about his business. Like a ghost (partially because he was wearing only a white, queen sized sheet), he faded into the dessert, riding the wind into the Empty Bottle Research facility.
With very little pomp or ceremony, Kent found himself facing a drunken, raving lunatic. He endured the blasts of profanity easily; he'd weathered real gales in Massachussets, and been cussed by the best on usenet. But the drool was a bit disconcerting. Finally his host wound down a bit.
``But enough of pleasantry, you spying, lying, scumbag. What do you want here?'' demanded the old man. Kent noted the flapping jowls, the jaundiced skin, the sunken eyes. The guy was even more pathetic in person than on usenet.
``My name's Jones. Texarkana Jones. My friends call me Tex. I'm an archaeologist. With two a's. I heard someone was trying to resurrect the past... or maybe rewrite the past. So I came to check it out.''
The hostile glare faded a bit. ``You're not from Denver? How do I know you ain't a lawyer from Denver?'' demanded the old man, his vitriol level dropping just a bit.
``Lawyer? Lawyer!!!'' yelled Kent. ``I've a good mind ta get mah gun and blow yer cotton-pickin' head off!''
The old man took a step back, blinking. ``Hey! No reason to get crazy! Anyone would think you were from Texas!''
Kent rolled his eyes. ``Obviously I'm from Kansas,'' he said sarcastically, ``but the heat got to my little dog, Toto.''
The old man smiled. ``Well, why didn't you say so? You must be from Robert! Well, well, this is wonderful!'' He snapped his fingers. Robot guards lowered their weapons. A college aged girl in a bikini appeared, carrying drinks. The old man leered and blew her a kiss as she passed by; she smiled coyly, but grimaced as soon as she was safely past him. She offered Kent a soda, and popped the top for him before leaving.
``So Robert finally decided to check out my lab! This is wonderful, wonderful!'' He laughed loudly, coughing up great wads of nasty, green phlegm, which he spat into a nearby trashcan. ``So, which tubes is he interested in? The new 6L6GCs?''
Kent's head spun. He couldn't believe Robert would do business with Howard. But he needed to know more. An idea hit. ``Robert's just a front. The military is who's really interested. They want a 6550A that leaves the NOS GEs in the dust.''
The room got quiet as a tomb. It seemed to get darker. Howard stared at Kent for a moment, then began to curse. He cursed louder and louder, all the time getting more and more vile. The carpet smouldered, but Howard kept on. The drapes caught fire, but stil Howard cursed. Every light bulb in the chandelier exploded, and finally Howard fell silent. He stared at Kent.
``Are you serious? A 6550A?''
Kent took a deep breath, preparing for verbal Armageddon. He'd never run across a sailor who could curse like Howard. He nodded. ``By the thousands.''
Howard threw back his head and howled. The sound curled Kent's hair, even his eyebrows. The howling went on for what seemed like days, until the drapery flames extinguished themselves in self-defense. When he stopped for breath, Howard leered at Kent. ``If they got the money, honey, I got the glass.''
mr x looked at BoB. BoB looked at mr x. They looked at the monitor again. Kent's Dick Tracy [tm] wrist TV was transmitting finem, but it might as well have been a Swahili soap opera, because it made no sense at all. mr x swore. ``Fnord.''
Howard led the way through the factory, alternately patting workers on the back and punching them in the kidneys. ``No rhyme or reason to who gets what. I like to keep them on their toes, the dirtbags.''
Kent winced, and vowed to smuggle Kevlar[tm] body armor in for the workers if necessary.
They stopped before the scariest machine Kent had ever seen. Sand poured in one end. Various spools of wire and a ribbon of dark metal fed from another side. Dozens of articulated, robotic arms moved in a dance too fast for the eye to follow. Two giant antenna aimed through holes in the roof. Partially assembled tubes rolled off a conveyor onto a plate, where they disappeared in dazzling flashes. Finished looking tubes appeared on another plate, from which they rolled onto another conveyor to be whisked off for boxing.
Howard beamed evilly. ``Behold the EBR 6550Z, the ultimate power tube. 10KV on the plate. 5,000 watts. An extra grid that lets you control the distortion characteristics. A service life of a century. Final assembly in trans-lunar orbit. And that fat Admiral Willie and that skinny Admiral Rich said it couldn't be done! But Ned, the Commander, he never naysaid me. So I'll sell to him. But not the other two! Not if they came and groveled, not if they offered me all the whiskey on the planet!''
Kent realized he had to say something, but his brain was still overloaded; the test machines nearby indicated the 6550Z was handling its rated specs in its sleep. ``Really?'' he muttered.
``Well... if they had that much booze to offer, maybe we could deal...''
Something white blew by a window. Nobody noticed.
Howard pulled a pyramid-shaped bell from a coat pocket and rang it. The tone ate into Kent's brain, but he gave no sign. A moment later, someone sauntered in from Kent had no idea where.
``Allow me to introduce the genius behind the variable distortion grid!'' cackled Howard. ``Dave is a solid state genius. He was the one who proposed a marriage of tube and silicon technology. We don't model tubes, we put modeling inside the tubes!''
Dave grinned affably. ``Unlike most of the dinosaurs on the net, Howard recognized my talent, and the power inherent in both digital and analog transistor technology...''
Kent struggled to stay awake as Dave lectured on the advantages to using solid state technology inside a vaccuum tube. Just before he passed out, a hum vee roared down the hallway; they jumped aside just in time.
Howard started cursing at the vehicle. Elvis popped out, ignoring the three of them, and sauntered over to the nearest female. ``Honey,'' he breathed huskily, ``Ah've been waitin' all mah lahf for you...'' The young woman wrinkled her nose at the beer smell, and slapped Elvis on one side of the face, then on the other, then again on the first side for good measure. She went back to work. Elvis staggered over to Howard. ``Kill her! Kill her!''
Howard and Dave both slapped Elvis. Kent wanted to cheer, but he also wanted to slap all of them. Remembering his mission, he refrained. ``So, how much for the tubes? And what about samples?''
Dave caught Elvis as he fell. ``$250 per tube in matched quads. You can take a dozen tubes back for testing.''
Howard glared at Dave. $277.18 in matched quads!''
Dave reddened. ``Sorry... Wait! This is for the military! I meant, $2,500, um, $2,771.80 per tube in matched quads!''
Howard rubbed his hands delightedly.
Something white blew by the 6550 machine. Nobody noticed.
Then the lights went out. That, they noticed.
Something white flitted to the top of the 6550 machine. It settled there and grew solid. All eyes were upon it. All ears strained to hear any sound it might make. The room grew warm.
``NOOOOOOoooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!'' Howard's eyes looked like giant flying saucers, spinning madly. He pawed at the air, howling on and on and on at the figure atop his beloved machine.
Dave slumped, dejectedly. He knew, somehow, that it was all over, even though he didn't recognize the figure as Howard obviously did.
Kent just stared, non-plussed. What was Aspen Pittman doing on top of that machine?
To Be Continued...
Last updated: 09 APr 2004
Copyright 2004 Miles O'Neal, Austin, TX. All rights reserved.
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This copyright may be freely used, distributed and modified subject to the conditions noted above in the preceeding paragraph. Miles O'Neal <roadkills.r.us@XYZZY.gmail.com> [remove the "XYZZY." to make things work!] c/o RNN / 1705 Oak Forest Dr / Round Rock, TX / 78681-1514