Tuesday, 25 October 2016
LED Eyes (part 4)
“Over here!” Screamed a voice. “Over a here!”
I knew that voice. It was the perky yet satirical Lancashire broad of my good friend, Miss Katy McDonald. She screamed a little louder, adding their names. “Samantha! I’m here!”
I think it was the increased volume that drew their attentions. Their shining eyes had a strangely distant quality to them which, to me at least, suggested they were far too spaced out to recognise the calling of their names. With the assortment lawn mowers screaming, they twisted around and faced Katy.
“Demon, get the car.” The old man said. “And quick!”
Nodding, the big man with the machine gun ran around the side of the house behind us and disappeared. I looked around frowning. The watch on my wrist was cracked but the hands still crept their fourth dimensional imprint. It announced that it was six in the evening. The sun should have been beginning to dip yet it was still high, like it was midday. If the metal baths, the men with guns and the evil pink ladies of death didn’t have the effect enough, I found the unwelcome sunshine unsettling.
The old man cocked his gun and pointed it at the ladies. He fired six shots. Five of the bullets found their mark, tearing open the housewives’ heads. The sixth shot flew over the six housewife’s head and smashed a window in one of the houses. He fired the other four shots, one at the unharmed housewife and the other three at their legs. The legs tore open, spraying white foil and wire over the floor. I frowned. Then I realised I shouldn’t have been frowning at that. I should have been frowning at the fact that their heads had been torn open by bullets and yet they were still approaching Katy, ready to kill.
“Chris!” She shrieked. “I’m the Damsel in Distress for once, okay?”
“Samantha!” I shouted to a discerning, almost angered look from the old man. “Over here!”
“Did you not hear me when I told you to be quiet?” The old man asked. His gun clicked as he dropped the empty magazine and reached for another from his pocket to load it. He did it with the same calm detachment as that I exhibit when solving a Rubik’s Cube- it was more a case of muscle memory than actually knowing what he was doing. Meanwhile, the Samanthas split. Three continued to approach Katy, the other three turning to approach us. The impact of the bullets on the back of their heads was aesthetically evident; the small capsules of lead had torn through the soft material of their heads and fragmented the interior contents, forcing it to explode forwards and change the exterior shape of their faces. For two of them, it simply caused strange lumps and bumps. For the third, it meant a huge gash had opened where their forehead had been and one of their eyes was hanging out. “I was worried they’d do that.”
“What, split up?” I replied.
“No.” The old man said. “Learn. They must have witnessed me sending Demon off and estimated it was a logical strategy.”
I didn’t really hear what he said after that because I was too busy concentrating on Katy screaming. She was moving, jumping from one side to another but the Samanthas jerked their heads to follow her, shifting with imperceptible speeds to prevent her running. They appeared to study her, growing to know her more and more until they could predict her movements quicker than she could make them. The result of this was that they closed in on her, their lawn mowers ready to tear her apart.
“We need to do something!” I cried.
The old man nodded. “Everything is in hand.”
I frowned, ready to argue but I was rudely interrupted. There was the roar of an engine and then the flash of blue and black. The three housewives approaching Katy suddenly exploded, torn apart by a racing car. The part of me that had grown up spending evenings on a sofa beneath shelves full of kit car and touring car models instantly recognised it. That was the natural mating call of a straight eight engine, creating the sounds of three valves per cylinder and a single overhead camshaft. I heard the guzzle of its 5.4 litre big combustion chambers and the smell in the air told me they should sack their mechanic; it was running a bit rich. The paint scheme was the clinching factor before it pulled to a stop but I knew, for a fact, that the car before me was a Bugatti Type 46 Coupe. And it was pretty awesome.
The sound of its engine was joined by the sudden explosion of the old man’s gun. He emptied the magazine onto the three remaining housewives, who weren’t quite sure what to do. Their heads shattered and, although it didn’t stop them, they seemed no longer able to see or hear and that gave us an advantage.
“Come on!” The old man cried, running quickly enough to put me to shame. He pulled open the passenger door and threw himself in. I pulled open the back and climbed in, whilst shouting, “Katy! Get in!”
“Stranger danger, Chris!” She replied. “What about stranger danger?”
“Screw it.” I replied. “What about lawn mowing monster women off of the BBC?”
“It could be worse.” The big man called Demon said. “It could be lawn mowing monster women from the ITV.”
“This is hardly the time nor the place.” The old man said. “Miss? Are you coming?”
Katy, with eyes that told me we would be having words about this later, ran towards the car, jumped in and closed the door with a surprising thud. She turned to me as Demon began to accelerate the car out of the clearing and down the side of the hill. In the distance there was the sound of lawn mowers striking up but it wasn’t as attention catching as the sight before us.
The artificial sunlight ended in twenty metres, at which point a grey grimness took over. The car was moving at such speed that we exploded from the light and into the dark between one blink and the next. Metaphorically, it felt like the opposite way around. We were only just escaping the darkness.
Before I could voice this opinion, Katy had exclaimed over the roar of the engine, “What the freaking hell is going on?”
The old man shifted in his chair, once more reloading his gun with a magazine from, I noticed, a stash in the glovebox. “What’s your name, Miss?”
“Katy.” She said. “Yours?”
“My apologies. I was meaning your surname. Such informality as your first name isn’t befitting of such a young lady.”
“Chris,” Katy said, “you know when you took me to that festival and it turned out to be a celebration of nudist knitting because you’d read the website wrong?”
“And I nearly hit you when you suggested we make the most of a bad situation.”
“If you suggest we make the most of this bad situation I will kill you. To death. With my hands.”
“Miss, I really must press, what is your surname?” The old man said.
“Miss McDonald, as I was explaining to Christopher-“
“How come he gets a first name but I don’t?” Katy asked.
I rolled my eyes. Not even getting mortally threatened by robots and then abducted by gun toting strangers would distract her from the pursuit of feminism.
“Miss McDonald,” said Demon from the driver’s seat, taking his eyes from the road, “would you just go along with it? I don’t think anyone currently present has the stomach for a breakdown of the sexist attitudes of the fifties and sixties.”
Katy humphed. The old man went on. “Miss McDonald, as I was explaining to Mr Marten here, I believe the village you were staying in as somehow undergone a terrible transformation, potentially by alien invaders. I know it sounds ridiculous but you must trust me. I and my companion here are amongst the country’s utmost authorities on the concept.”
“And who are you and your companion here? And how come you have guns? And what the hell were you doing there?”
The old man rolled his eyes and remarked, to Demon, “Do you remember the days where having this accent just gained you unquestionable authority? I do and I miss them desperately.”
Creaking once more in the leather of his chair he spoke to the two of us directly. “My name is Percival Archin. Our driver is Graham Cooper, codenamed Demon. We’re representatives of the Fenwick Institute. I don’t imagine you’ve heard of us and, I’m afraid, now that you have, life is going to get a hell of a lot more complicated. I’ll explain more when we get back to the Sanctum.” He turned back to attend to a map Demon, or rather Graham, had handed him.
I mouthed ‘Sanctum’ to Katy and she shrugged in such a way that said, “Considering the day we’re having, that’s normal.”
She heard the phone ringing. It was on the other side of the room. Its electronic trill broke the heavy envelope of her slumber. She opened her eyes and stared at it. The blue bulb on the top was flashing unapologetically. She considered getting out of bed.
There were maybe three metres between her bed and the desk on which the phone was perched. She could cover it in four strides- three if she was willing to stretch- but she didn’t want to. Next to it was the frame, face down, dust mingling between the glass and the veneer of her flatpack desk.
The bed was warm, the sheets crumpled. The duvet was draped over her thin green hoodie. She’d knocked her Doc Marten boots off, pushing them beneath the bed and revealing her Batman leggings. She was lying in the foetal position, screwed up tight into herself so she took up less space.
The phone continued to ring. She wondered how long it would take before it rang out but she knew the answer. She’d programmed it especially as not to go to answer machine if there was someone in the room. The motion sensor was above the door and she considered whether she could shoot it out but the answer came to her pretty quickly. Her gun was in the armoury, so of course she couldn’t.
It wouldn’t be that hard. All she had to do was get out of the bed, cross the carpet and pick it up. But what if it’s Malcom? What if he wants to formalise your redundancy, huh? What if it’s Antonio wanting to know what’s going on? Do you want to explain what’s going on?
Of course, these weren’t the questions having the biggest effect on her. The question that was gnawing away at her mind, like the woodworm in the belfry, was much more horrific. It was a question she didn’t want to contemplate because doing just that would cripple her, chain her to the floor, prevent her from moving.
What if it’s Annie?
The phone stopped ringing, the light stop flashing. Twenty rings and the game was up. Leave a message after the tone. BEEP. She’d never know who was on the other end of the line, she’d never know who was so desperate to speak. The part of her that knew she could never be happy reminded her of the uncertainty, the lack of knowledge, how it wouldn’t be perfect. It made her think of paper pulled from a ring bound book by an overzealous idiot, the paper all torn and creased, the thin dotted line ignored. She cringed and she grimaced, her body shaking ever slightly. The uncertainty, the lack of knowledge. She could see a glass of coke falling through the air, tumbling slightly, smashing and shattering against a newly cleaned floor, making everything sticky, making everything unsafe. And then the flies came, buzzing, screaming their unified screech, sharing their eternal pain in a monotonous hum. And from the swarming flies Lizzy saw her mother and she screamed.
The phone began to ring again. The noise was so loud against the silence of the Sanctum, like a hiccup in an exam hall, all eyes twisting slowly towards the source, burning a hatred of being interrupted, distracted, despite the exam conditions. The heavy thud of an examiner's footsteps as he marched over, court marshalled her for her interruption, her distraction, grabbed her paper, tore it straight through the middle. That imperfect ruin of freshly printed pages, destroyed, obliterated, violated, the staple falling and the final questions, the ones she was too stupid to understand, too stupid to even consider, never to be seen, always to be uncertain. And all the while, every eye in the entire room was fixed on her, grinning, smirking, whispering behind her about how stupid and insignificant and awful she was.
The phone continued to ring. She fought so hard to get out of bed, swearing to herself, damning herself when she was in a good mood, when she was deciding on how to make sure she acted properly when down. Why had she decided twenty rings? She’d change it. Fifteen rings. No, less. Ten rings. Five rings. Four. Three. Two. One ring and the game was over. Leave a message in the answer machine. One ring and the world was changed. Well, Lizzy? What’s your answer? That ring cost me a lot.
She looked at her hand, the hand Annie should have been holding, she looked at the finger, the fourth from the thumb, where that tan line should have been as she climbed off the aeroplane but it wasn’t. It was pale and ghastly and misshapen like every other inch of her body and she hated and she just wanted to climb back into her bed but she forced herself on until she picked up the phone and put it to her ear. For better or for worse.
“Lizzy?” Asked Percival. “Are you there?”
It was Percival. Thank the Lord it was Percival. Anyone else, she would have hung up and gone to the armoury but it was Percival and she could trust him. He looked after her. He was on her side.
“Lizzy? This is an auditory device. I can’t see any of your amusing facial expressions right now.”
He was stressed. She didn’t like it when he was stressed. The nails of her other hand dug into her palm, leaving their crescent moon imprints in the soft flesh. It was better than the blotchy red horizontals tracing up and down her forearms.
“I’m here.” She said, her voice breaking, but she gained a little confidence and allowed it to be deeper. “What’s going on? Was it a crash?”
“I’m not entirely sure what it is.” He replied. “We’re on our way back to the Sanctum with readings now. I need the Spectrometer warmed up and a forensic analyser ready for the front of the Bugatti. I’m hoping we’ve got some remnants.”
She cradled the telephone on her shoulder and grabbed a pencil, quickly scribbling Percival’s instructions onto a pad. “Remnants of what?”
“I’m not entirely certain but I should think some sort of android life form.”
“That might be an understatement.” Percival replied. “Call Richmond. Tell him to block off all roads going towards Condor Farm and Dentdale in Yorkshire.”
“That’s outside of his constituency, y’know.”
“Oh I know.” He said this in such a way you could tell there was a grin on the other end of the line. “That’s why I asked for him. We’re about forty minutes away. See you then.”
“I can’t wait.” Lizzy said and hung up. She dropped her pencil, looked over the notepad and then marched back over to her bed to grab her shoes. The stone floor could be chilly this time of year and, no matter how awesome they might be, Batman leggings weren’t that warming.
“Did you tell Lizzy about the passengers?” Graham Cooper asked, his voice the deep warbling of someone befitting the nickname, ‘Demon.’
“No.” Percival said. “I didn’t want her worrying.”
“She won’t thank you for that.” Graham said. “Firstly because it’ll annoy her. Secondly because she’ll refuse to talk.”
“She didn’t answer the first ring which we both know means something is wrong. Telling her there are going to be strangers in the Sanctum is not going to make the situation any easier for her.”
“Who’s this you’re talking about?” I asked from the rear of the Bugatti. It was a wonderful car and, even if it was running a bit rich, the mechanic had done a wonderful job on the suspension.
“Elizabeth Dunstan.” Percival said. “My, well, I suppose my ward if you will. I apologise in advance for how she reacts to your presence.”
“No offence, mister, but we nearly got chewed up by evil lawnmower ladies from Mars earlier. I’m sure your ward, if that’s a word that’s been used since the mid sixties, won’t be that scary.”
“Young lady, I shall remind you of that when you have attempted to have a conversation with her.” Percival said. “And, may I add, the ‘lawnmower ladies’ are not from Mars.”
“Did you know that Mars is the only planet in our solar system entirely populated by robots?” Graham piped up. Nobody said anything.
We didn’t talk much on the road. It was a strange situation to find yourself in and dialogue didn’t spring eternal. Instead I concentrated on the road signs, one declaring we were entering Manchester and another one declaring the government hadn’t paid for anyone to wipe the graffiti off their signs. “We’re not in Blackpool anymore, Toto.” I muttered to Katy.
It turned out that ‘the Sanctum’ was located about ten minutes from the Arndale centre- “We heard the bombing. God, it was awful.” - and thus we had to undergo the rigours of driving through a busy city centre before we could park. We parked outside a dilapidated old church, sandwiched between two gleaming skyscrapers. They looked incredible. The type of building you could imagine posh men and women in suits marching around, making decisions that would ‘affect the future of the free world.’ “You guys own one of those?” I grinned.
“No.” Graham said. “We own the one that looks like it’s falling down.”
“Oh, don’t be so harsh on her.” Percival said, climbing out of the car. “That church has stood there since before either of us were born.”
“So since the Battle of Bosworth then?” Katy asked.
“Miss McDonald,” Percival replied, “I might remind you that you’d be bloody confetti if not for our intervention so perhaps it would be in your best interest to show some manners.”
Katy looked like she was ready to sulk. I frowned. There were a lot of words to describe her but sulky wasn’t one of them. Maybe she wasn’t happy that she couldn’t be the knight in shining armour for once.
Percival and Graham led us across the pavement and through the gate, up several steps, past some brambles and then around the side of the old church and towards its wooden doors. The key looked like something from a medieval dungeon and this semantic field of old creepiness was further assisted by the creaking of the door as it swung open, revealing stone tiled floor. There was a spiral staircase to the left and a wrack of keys to the right. Graham hung up his keys and we walked straight onwards, into the church body proper.
I was no stranger to Anglican churches. The last one I had visited had involved a dead vicar (See Part One if you’ve forgotten- I know I haven’t) but the majority of features were identical in its kin. This one was completely different, as if it had been redecorated by an atheist interior designer. The choir stands were replaced with computers and complicated looking gizmos I doubted I could begin to understand. The organ was replaced with a single workstation that appeared more complex than the interior workings of a politician’s brain in the process of lying. Where there were once pews, there were a range of different things. A lounge area, more computers, a kitchenette and a small lab.
Standing in the lab was, well, Lizzy Dunstan. She was maybe five foot eleven with striking dark green hair in a pixie cut. She had a lip piercing and a nose piercing and was wearing a green hoodie with Batman leggings and a pair of Doc Martens. I didn’t need the iPhone in a docking station behind her to tell me the muffled hum of My Chemical Romance was emanating from her direction.
She looked up at us from where she was assembling a device- it might have been the Spectrometer Percival had mentioned on the phone- and stopped. There was a half formed smile for Percival and Graham which disappeared as soon as she saw Katy and I. She simply stood there and stared.
“Lizzy, have you got the analyser set up?” Percival called, his voice echoing slightly against the stone walls.
Lizzy said nothing. There was a momentary tremble in the lip holding her piercing. Then it was gone. She went back to holding herself completely still, like a golem with green hair.
“Lizzy? You haven’t enabled the holograms again have you?” Percival chided.
There was still no reply.
“I told you she wouldn’t like it.” Graham said. “Let me talk to her.”
We watched the big man stroll across the stone floor, stepping between the various sections of the central church and over towards the lab. Lizzy must have seen him approaching, he crossed her line of sight twice, yet she didn’t move. It wasn’t until he finally got to her, his warbling voice calling her name, that she realised he was there.
“Is everything okay, Elizabeth?”
“New people. Who are they?”
“Victims. Lost souls. People who need our help.”
She continued to stare at us, then said, “I don’t want to talk to them.”
“You don’t have to. Just put up with them for a bit. And then, once this case is over, you never need see them again. Just smile. Can you do that?”
“You don’t smile. Ever.”
“That’s because I look like constipated horse when I attempt to smile.” Graham Cooper said. That simile made Lizzy grin and so Graham patted her on the back. “See. Wasn’t too hard, was it?”
She smiled a little more and Graham gave Percival a nod to approach. He led us towards the laboratory where he placed down a tablet from his pocket alongside a small evidence bag of samples from the front bumper of the Bugatti.
“Good day at work?” Percival asked, reaching for the forensic analyser.
”Well, I suppose that’s a little more positive than our day.” Percival said. “An entire village dead, Lizzy, and we had no idea. How do they do it?”
“Who are ‘they’?” Katy asked.
They, I presumed, were the monstrous, murdering psychopathic death machines that had nearly shredded her and had left the entire village completely dead. I didn’t really want to find out any more about them because to do so would be to admit that they existed and I really didn’t want to do that.
“Graham, would you like to do the speech?” Percival asked.
“No.” Graham said. “I’m the big one who kicks doors open. You’re the inspiring speech ones.”
Percival sighed before gesturing over to the lounge area opposite the lab. “It might be best if I explain this whilst you’re sat down.”
“No.” Katy argued. “I’ve had it up to here with you being all enigmatic and concealing. Tell me what the hell is going on or I’ll-“
“You’ll do what, young lady? Try to intimidate a group of extraterrestrial investigators with a childish tantrum?” Percival asked. “We are the Fenwick Institute, the organisation tasked by the government to investigate and contain alien threats. I’m Percival Archin, physicist and team leader. This is Graham Cooper, mechanic and mathematician and this is Lizzy Dunstan, our resident programmer. The building you are standing in is our base of operations, nicknamed the Sanctum. I and Graham were in the right place at the right time to rescue you because we were investigating reports of a crash landing at Condor Farm. The crash seems to have been perpetuated by androids disguised as the pink adorned housewives of that BBC ident clip. I’m not entirely sure why. From first impressions, it would appear they are hostile, however I believe they are adapting quickly and will soon begin to convert human beings into extra troops to deal with the six we have destroyed. Any questions?”
I tentatively raised my hand.
“When did we walk on the set of Torchwood?”
Lizzy stifled a mild giggle. I took that as a small victory.
“This is no joking matter, Chris.” Percival said. “There were clear signs of conversion. The liquid/permeable metal in your holding cell, the awful heat despite the time of year and, of course, the number of housewives.”
“Why the number of housewives?” I asked, frowning.
“There were six, correct?” Percival replied.
“Then how come in the TV clip there are only two?” He asked. “Furthermore, the spectroscopic readings of the gases emitted by the ship on entering our atmosphere, according to the spectroscope Lizzy set up for us, show that the ship must be a certain size. According to the Turner Chart, it’s most likely to be a dual piloted ship. Such a ship can carry a maximum of four androids at the most, so we know at least two of the pink ladies were conversions.”
I suddenly remembered the gardens next to the newsagents, opposite the park with the dead little girl. “There were four men mowing their lawns in unison just before I got knocked out.”
“Those men were turned into pink ladies, then.” Percival said.
“How?” Katy frowned.
“By a conversion matrix, duh!” Lizzy retorted as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
“But if they can convert middle aged men to look exactly like them in the course of a day, how can we ever hope to defeat them? They’re going to have the technology of the Gods.”
“We’re the ones with a base in a church, Chris.” Graham pointed out.
“We have the advantage at this current moment.” Percival said. “All of their soldiers are destroyed and the analysers, that Lizzy is currently running on the android debris from the Bugatti, are devising us a characteristics sheet. If we can return some point in the next day, whilst they’re still rebuilding, we can hunt down the hive consciousness and destroy it once and for all. Simple as that.”
There was a loud beep and then the sound of printing paper. Lizzy let a smile cross her face for a second but it quickly died before she turned and heading over to the printer. She passed four double sided pieces of paper to Percival. He flicked through them briefly and then handed them over to Graham. The big man read through them and then nodded. “We’re going to need some big guns.”
“Are those the characteristics?” I asked.
Percival nodded. “We’re going to need some very big guns.”