Real Boy

Part 8

by Mara (talitha_shipman at tayloru.edu)
3/2/02

Big Guy hanging in space and the Dark Horse totally out. Emergency battery power didnít even come on.

Ericka thought for a second. "But Joís flashlight works, so the aliens must just have shut down connected shipís systems." Ericka turned to Garth. "Do you have a communications system on board that isnít connected to the Dark Horse mainframe?"

"Uh, yeah, we have some laptops with satellite links." Garth began to see where Ericka was going with her question. "We can wire them to connect to Dwayneís helmet. At least weíll know if heís okay."

"The computers are in a locker up on C Deck," Jo said.

Ericka turned to leave the bay. "Iíll go find them."

Rusty pulled on his motherís arm. "What do I do?"

Ericka smiled. "You stay here where itís safe."

Rusty frowned. "But I want to go with you."

Erica looked back as she ducked out of the bay hatch. "Iím sorry, the best thing for you is to stay put."

Rusty watched as she faded into the pitch-black corridor, her flashlight bounding as she ran.

"Sheís right, you know."

Rusty nearly jumped out of his skin when something landed softly on his back. "Ahhh," he screamed.

Leon, who had suddenly appeared on Rustyís shoulder, blinked and wiggled his whiskers. "Your mother is only looking out for you."

Suspicion suddenly popped into Rustyís mind. "What are you doing here?"

"Shush." Leon said. "I canít be seen. Itís dark enough that I blend in. And it would complicate things if your guardians knew of my presence. And to answer your question, I am not tricking you or spying on you. I have your best interest at heart, and you must trust me."

"I barely know you." Rustyís brows knitted, making him look incredibly like a miniature Dwayne.

"Tsk, Tsk. Real humans are so suspicious. You would have believed me a week ago."

Rusty lowered his voice to a whisper. "Well that was a week ago and not now. Iíve learned some stuff."

"Ah yes, like grownups can lie, even to you."

"Maybe, but Lt. Dwayne didnít do it to hurt me. He did it to keep me safe."

"I know." Leonís expression softened into a grandfatherly smile. "Where I come from, children are protected, much as children are on this planet."

Rusty moved farther away from the Pit Crew, hoping they wouldnít overhear his conversation. "Where do you come from? Do you have a name like the Neo Catarii?"

Leon smiled once again. "My my, you do ask many questions. So demanding." The small creature took a deep breath and twitched his nose. "I am a Vlen. We come from a planet known as Vlena. Those that chose you long ago discovered it. We have always had an understanding with them. I myself have traveled many years with them, going to new places, meeting new races. It was quite an opportunity for a young Vlen like me."

Leon cocked his head and hopped off the boyís shoulder to come to a silent landing on the deck plating. "But you, you are unlike anyone they have chosen. They created you, and for what purpose, I can only guess. Their ways are shrouded in mystery."

Rusty made a frustrated Ďhumphí and rolled his eyes. "Yeah, they want me to go with them to see the universe." Rusty stopped and gave Leon an odd look. "How did you get down here?"

Leon gave Rusty a knowing smile. "I flew."

"Okay." Rusty didnít ask his next obvious question. He somehow knew that Leon wasnít interested in explaining how he 'flew' down to Earth.

"Now then," Leon said. "I have something to show you. I know your mother told you to stay put, but this cannot wait."

"First you tell me to stay, then you say go. Make up your mind," Rusty said.

"I have," Leon said, shaking his whiskers. "We go, but not off the ship."

Ten minutes later, Rusty and Leon were standing on the completely blackened deck of the Dark Horse.

"Look up," Leon said. "What do you see?"

"Stars," Rusty said, sounding unimpressed.

"Yes, stars, and galaxies, planets, and other odd things." Leon sighed.

"Now what if I told you that there was something out there, something horrible that needed to be stopped."

"Like a monster?" Rusty questioned.

"Worse than a monster." Leonís expression saddened as he gazed at the stars. "Something that devours whole worlds. It kills billions. You do know what death is, donít you."

"I think. Itís where you just donít exist anymore." Rusty kicked at the tarmac beneath his feet. "I had a guinea pig that died once."

"Well, it may go on existing, but certainly not as it once did. Death causes pain for the ones left behind, mostly."

Rustyís expression brightened as he thought of something. "Could Big Guy stop this thing?"

"Hardly, child."

"Why not?" Rusty seemed confused. In his eyes, there was nothing Big Guy and Dwayne couldnít do.

"Iím going to be plain with you, Rusty." Leonís face became stoic. "This thing, this plague, is coming for your planet. Nothing on your planet can stop it. Not Big Guy, Not the Armed Forces, nothing. It has seen you and it wants to destroy your home."

"Canít we do anything?" Rusty was beginning to sound distressed. He hated feeling helpless.

"Yes, Rusty, there is something you can do. You can go up and visit those aliens in orbit. They wish to give you a gift. I suggest you let them."

"What? But I donít want to leave Mom and Dwayne."

Leon sighed. "Boy, there is no choice. These creatures are our last hope. The do not know the power they possess. They wish to teach you their ways. They are unknowing of this great evil. How could they be? They havenít been in the loop for well over ten million years. The probe you made contact with is a relic from their great age. Now they are only spirits, roaming the galaxy, looking for entertainment. They do not understand pain, fear, death, anger!"

Rusty took a step back from Leon. The creatureís fur was standing up on end and his small fists had balled up. Rusty suddenly caught horrible images pouring out of the Vlenís mind. Wails of sorrow seemed to echo off the water below. "What did this plague do to you, Leon?" Rusty asked.

"Nothing." Leon took a deep breath and smoothed his fur. "Not for you to know. The truth is this. I have been waiting for them to bestow their power on someone, so that I could recruit that someone. I never imagined it would be a mere boy. Now I fear that we are lost, and the evil continues to spread."

Rusty sat down on the hard deck beside Leon. "Iíll do my best to help you defeat this evil. After all, thatís what I do. Iíll go to the aliens and tell them that I will take the powers they want me to have."

"No," Leon said sadly. A new tiredness changed his demeanor. "I spoke rashly. You are only a boy. No one can expect you to sacrifice so much, just a child...." Leon trailed off and continued to look at the stars.

Rusty frowned. "Look, I may not be a boy robot anymore, but I can fight, and Iím brave. Iím not afraid of some monster that deserves to get his butt kicked."

"No, I will look elsewhere." Leon smiled wryly and wiggled his whiskers. "Go be a boy, Rusty." Leon got up and walked into the darkness. "Go live," he said, and then the darkness swallowed him up like a hungry beast.

 

Ericka came running back with two laptop cases in her arms, flashlight balanced precariously in her teeth.

"I got it," she said as Jo took the flashlight from the scientistís mouth.

"Thanks. Now me might actually find out if olí Dwayne is still holding up the fort." Jo forced a smile she didnít really feel like giving, considering the circumstances.

Garth and Mack came up to stand beside the two women as they unpacked the laptops. "State of the art," Garth said as he grabbed one and began plugging wires into the computerís ports. "I hope the batteries are charged."

"Knowiní our luck, probably not," Mack added.

"Hey, knock that off," Garth said. "We will make this work."

Mack grumbled something unintelligible.

"Okay," Ericka said, "that should do it." She plugged in one more cord and hoped for the best. Just as she did so, the lights in the bay came back on. The familiar rumbling of the Dark Horseís mighty engines also started up.

"What? Jo said.

"Doc, youíre a miracle worker!" Garth exclaimed.

"Donít be silly, I didnít do this," Ericka said.

The giant video screens at the hangarís operations center also came back on line. General Thortonís angry voice echoed throughout the room. "....Slate, what happened? For thirty minutes you people didnít answer my hails. What is going on down there?"

Dwayneís voice punctuated the Generalís. "Jo, Mack, Garth, Iím back online."

"One at a time," Garth said. "Dwayne, system rundown, please."

"Iím at 100 percent."

"Good," Garth said. "Now, General, you were saying."

"We lost all contact with you and the Lieutenant. Our systems on base were getting static and nothing else. I thought we lost you."

"Iím fine, General," Dwayne said. "I donít really know what happened though. The alien spacecraft is just sitting there. Itís not glowing at all anymore."

"Yes, and weíre not getting any more strange readings," Dr. Slate said.

"Maybe it was just their equivalent of a power surge," Jo said.

Ericka snorted. "Pretty selective power surge. Iím betting they shut us down for a reason." A thought struck the back of Erickaís mind. "Whereís Rusty?"

The pit crew looked around the bay. Jo frowned. "He was here earlier. He walked off toward the rear of the hangar."

A cold fear gripped Erickaís stomach like tiny reptilian claws. "Oh, no. They took him."

"No, they didnít, Mom." A small, rather timid voice issued from the door. "Someone told me to stay." Rusty smiled sheepishly. "I hope you arenít mad at me."

Ericka ran over to Rusty and scooped him up into her arms. "Of course not." Her expression darkened as she thought about what Rusty had said. "Who told you to stay?"

Rusty gave his mother a mysterious smile. "Leon did. But you donít know him, heís from another planet."

Mack grumbled something about this situation becoming nothing but a gosh dang ĎX-Filesí episode and then went back to testing ship's systems.

Ericka ignored him and looked at her son. "What did they want, Rusty?"

Rusty shrugged. "He wanted me to do something at first, and then he changed his mind. Heís a funny little guy. He did leave, though." Rusty looked into his motherís eyes, trying to gauge if his answer had satisfied her. He soon sensed that she had indeed decided that for now, that answer would do. Rusty gave a mental sigh of relief. He doubted very much that she would approve of what he was planning to do. But he certainly didnít want to worry her. He now knew what he had to do, whether Leon or Mom liked it or not.

 

Leon ran as fast as he could to the Chamber of Contemplation. The Chamber was the largest room in the entire vessel, and it glowed and sparkled with the life force of the spirits that dwelled among its crystal spires. There he knew he would find Calla Dun, the one that called itself the leader of the ethereal spirits. The spirits had no physical bodies, but they still existed as shadows of their former greatness. Many beings Leon had known feared Calla, for what they could not see or understand often frightened them.

Leon had become quite used to not seeing that which he was talking to. Calla had also become accustomed to speaking out loud, as opposed to thinking his comments to his small helper.

Leon bowed low as he entered the Chamber. "My Lord, how is it with you today?"

"It is good," the shimmering and often singsong voice answered. "I am surprised to see you back so soon, Leon." There seemed to be amusement in the spiritís voice.

"I told the boy to stay, My Lord." Leon braced himself for the fierce wind that would signal Callaís anger.

To Leonís surprise, it did not come. "And you have a reason?"

"Yes, but I must keep my reason to myself for now." Leon stepped farther in to the sparkling room. "I hope you understand, Calla."

"I believe I do." Once again, humor entered Callaís voice. "Do you really think I know so little about your plight, Leon?"

Leonís black eyes narrowed until there were mere slits. "Know, yes; understand, no."

"Ah." The spirit seemed to be thinking. "What you have done is wise, Leon. The boy is a frail human. Even with the powers of the Callen Ti, he may not be able to do what you wish. It would be foolish to risk his life and yours."

"Why did you choose him, my lord?" Leon could not keep the pain and frustration out of his voice. "Why him to carry on your legacy?"

"Because he is the one." Callaís voice softened to a whisper. "We know what this child means to you, Leon. We know what he can do for your people. We know and understand. There are things that you do not know about us. Indeed, you only know a small amount. That our world was destroyed is common knowledge, but how it happened is not known."

"I can only guess, my lord," Leon said.

"I will take the guesswork out of it for you." Now the voice sounded much like the strong and commanding voice that had spoken to Rusty in the boyís vision. "You are not the only one to be driven from your home, persecuted, and left for dead. There was a time when we were much like you, like the humans down below. We lived contented lives. But it was all destroyed in an instant. There are far worse things in this universe than the Plague."

An involuntary shiver ran down Leonís back. Worse than the Plague? He could not imagine such a thing.

"But we persevered," Calla continued. "Soon we had this vessel, and we escaped with our lives. That is what matters." The spirit paused. "The boy must fight for his own people. You cannot make him become your savior. The Plague will come here soon enough."

"I did not realize...." Leon began.

"We Callen have long memories. We do not speak of the tragedies often, however. I wanted you to know that I do understand."

Leon realized that he had not given Calla nearly enough credit. "Thank you. What do we do now?"

Leon could almost feel Calla leaning forward. "We wait."

 

"The plan was laid, and all I had to do was wait." Rusty ran through the corridors of the Dark Horse, seeking the proper equipment. A frenzied mood had infected him ever since he had made the decision to help Leon and his people. He didnít really care that he was an 8-year-old boy. He had a mission and he was sure as shootiní gonnaí complete it. As he rounded a corner, he found what he had been looking for. It was another computer storage station, much like the one Ericka had set out to find hours earlier. He grabbed at the handles and pushed the locker door open. Inside sat two black cloth cases with the letters USF stenciled across them. He slung one case over his back and hurried towards the flight deck.

"What are you doing?" It was Leon, of course, running alongside Rusty on all fours.

"Sorry, no time to talk, saving the world." Rusty kept on till he reached a set of metal ladders that led up towards fresh air. He started to climb.

"Oh no, you arenít. We are to wait."

"I am waiting." Rusty threw a charming smile Leonís way. "This my way of waiting."

"You get stranger and stranger every day." Leon shook his head as he leapt up the ladder rungs after his misbehaving charge. "For an eight-year-old, you certainly have a unhealthy lack of fear. You donít have any idea what you are getting yourself into."

Rusty stopped dead and leaned back to look at Leon. A serious expression formed on his face. "Yes I do. I know what death is; I saw it in your mind. And if I donít stop this plague, it will kill everybody I love, just like it did to your family."

Leonís jaw dropped. "You, you, saw that in my mind? I thought you couldnít read me."

"When you were angry on the top deck, you must have forgotten. I saw it all. I canít let that happen to my planet, too."

"What makes you think that you can stop it?" Leon puffed up his fur in frustration.

"Because, Leon, you thought I could stop it. I trust you."

"Oh, for starís sake, boy, you are just a child. You will be killed."

"Not if you help me, Leon." Rusty smiled his best and most sincere smile. "So, will you help me?"

Leon shook his head back and forth in disbelief. "Do you realize how much youíve changed?"

Rusty cocked his head at Leonís comment. "Yes, I do."

Leon sighed. "Then I will help you."

Rusty smiled. "Good. Can you tell the Callen that I want their gift? I think I already know what it is, anyways."

Leon gave Rusty a confused look. But how did you know that that is what they are called, and how do you know...?"

Rusty shrugged his shoulders and began to climb once again. "Just a hunch."

"For star's sake, this might just work." Leon hopped up onto Rustyís shoulder. Yes indeed, this might work."

Rusty laughed. "Just like Mom says, Ďyou gotta have a plan, Staní and we have one."

Leon blinked. "We do?"

"Yup, and it involves the Big Guy, and a couple of satellites."

"It does?"

"Yes, I may not be a boy robot anymore, but I still remember how to program and decode things. Itís all still in my brain." Rusty smiled as they neared the top of the ladder.

"But why are we programming something?" Leon was utterly confused. Rusty liked the change. Usually Leon was the one that left Rusty scratching his head.

"Youíll see. Weíre going to send a message to someone, someone who can help."

TO BE CONTINUED

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