Real Boy

Part 7

by Mara (talitha_shipman at

Ericka laughed out loud as she entered the mess hall that morning. There sat Dwayne and Rusty, looking equally tired and yet somehow more alive. Jo had told Ericka about Dwayne’s plan to tell Rusty of Big Guy’s secret the previous night. Ericka had wanted to be there, but Jo persuaded her otherwise. This was strictly between Dwayne and Rusty, she had said. It would make it easier if Ericka weren’t even there. Ericka had grudgingly agreed, frustrated that she couldn’t help out.

Now, however, she was glad she hadn’t. Dwayne was busy making airplane motions to Rusty, obviously describing some sort of aerial maneuver. Rusty sat with rapt attention focused on the Lieutenant. On his head he was wearing a military cap that was much too large for him. He looked ridiculous.

Both of them looked up as Ericka entered. "Morning, Doc," Dwayne said. "Sleep good?"

"Why, yes, I did." Ericka flopped down across from them. She was wearing a pair of pajama pants and an old T-shirt with the word Harvard printed across the front.

Rusty snickered as he noticed her messed-up hair. "You look funny, Mom."

Ericka shot Rusty a warning glare. "Hey, I would watch it. I now have the authority to spank you."

Rusty winced. "Ouch. I heard spanking hurts."

Dwayne smiled. "Hurts your pride more than anything else. I hated getting spanked when I was a kid."

"He deserved it, though." Jo, who had just entered the mess hall, also sat down with the small group. She looked even more disjointed than Ericka. "You went to Harvard?"

Ericka contorted her face into a grimace. "No, never. I went to MIT. My dad got this for me as a joke."

"MIT," Dwayne said, "Go figure." He rested his chin in his hands and yawned. At that moment, Garth and Mack also pulled up chairs to the table.

"Hello," Garth said. He was his usual cheery self. Garth, unlike Dwayne, was a morning person. Mack, who was not by any means a morning person, grumbled something unintelligible and began to consume frosted flakes and coffee immediately.

Suddenly, a blaring alarm began to howl in the mess hall. Everyone jumped, and Dwayne, Garth, Mack and Jo all swung into action on cue. They responded to the alarm by instinct. Ericka and Rusty followed them into the hangar bay, where Dwayne was already suiting up.

Mack was a little more than annoyed by the intrusive wakeup call. "Turn that darn racket off," he shouted at the top of his lungs. Garth was busy powering up monitoring systems that had been on standby all night. Dwayne ran up the stairs of the metal framework surrounding the Big Guy and hopped in with experienced ease.

Jo shouted, "Systems ready. You are a green for go, Dwayne." Dwayne gave her a thumbs up inside the cockpit and began to flip switches on his control board. Rusty watched in amazement the scene unfolding before him.

"Wow," he said. "I never knew all of this happened."

Big Guy powered up and his eyes began to glow red.

"All systems check." Big Guy’s voice boomed as it echoed around the hangar bay. "I’m ready to go."

Big Guy clomped over to the Legend One and entered through the sliding overhead door to the cockpit using his ion jets. Big Guy settled himself in the cockpit and began to pull levers to bring the Legend One to full readiness. More blaring sirens began to wail as the bullet-shaped vehicle was lifted up to launch angle.

Rusty pulled himself into one of the command chairs to watch the video feed coming from Big Guy’s cramped cockpit. Dwayne was busy pulling levers of his own.

"Launch," he said simply, and a voice-activated pickup turned all the lights on his board green.

"Voice imprint recognized," said a cheery female voice.

With that, the Legend One shot up into the sky above the U.S.S. Dark Horse as its deck crew cheered wildly.

Dwayne, however, was all business. "Jo, that new voiceprint worked well. Thanks. Garth, can you get me a read on our problem?"

Garth began typing madly away at his keyboard. "Got it, feeding coordinates now. It’s extraterrestrial." He whistled. "Dwayne, it’s pretty darn big."

Dwayne frowned. "How big?"

Garth hit a key that sent the information to Big Guy’s onboard computer.

"That big, huh."

"How big?" Rusty strained to see past Jo, who had just stepped in his way.

"Bigger than a breadbox, at least," was Dwayne’s sarcastic reply. In all reality, the object was about the size of Rhode Island.

Ericka, who was studying the feed intently, chewed on a blueberry bagel. "Dwayne, it looks organic in nature. Look at all those pits on the outside."

"I see ‘em." Dwayne pushed some buttons to bring communications up when a yellow light signifying an incoming encrypted transmission began to flash.

"Lieutenant." A steely voice came out of the main board speaker in the hangar as General Thorton’s features popped up on the overhead screen. "You have some explaining to do." He looked down at the redheaded boy with a scowl etched across his face.

Rusty smiled sheepishly up at him. "I promise not to tell. Really."

Thorton raised an eyebrow. "We’ll talk about that later. What’s the situation?"

"We’ve got a bogey of unknown alien origin. It appears to be biological in design." Jo looked over to Dr. Slate, who said nothing and shrugged her shoulders. She couldn’t really make any more guesses on the limited information she possessed.

"It does kinda look like bread," Rusty mused. "I hope they’re friendly." As he finished his statement, a chilling howl came over the speakers.

"What is that? Sounds like a dying cat," Mack said.

"Rusty!" Ericka cried. Jo, Garth, and Mack looked to see the boy lying still on the floor behind them.

"What’s going on?" Dwayne and Thorton yelled at the same time.

The howl built in volume till the occupants of the hangar bay had to clamp their hands tight over their ears.

"Dwayne," Jo yelled, "are you hearing that?"

"I hear a low-pitched hum coming from my outside feed -- no, that can’t be right; sound shouldn’t be traveling through space." And indeed, Dwayne was already out of Earth’s atmosphere and heading towards the alien spacecraft.

"Maybe it’s some kind of radio wave." Garth continued to type, feeding Dwayne coordinates, as he kept on hand over his left ear.

Mack and Ericka were kneeling over Rusty trying to wake him up. "Rusty, please," Ericka pleaded, "Come back to me."

Rusty awoke in a strange light-filled room. "Are you....?" he asked.

"Yes." The reply came before he could finish his question. "We are here to meet you."

Suddenly, a small creature appeared from the white haze. It was covered in soft black fur, with large black eyes and pointed tufts of white hair sticking up from slender ears. It had a blunt muzzle and a small pink nose that twitched constantly. From its chin hung silky white whiskers, making it appear to be grandfatherly. To Rusty’s surprise, it spoke.

"Hello, I am Leon." Its language sounded something akin to squeaky wheels, but Rusty understood him perfectly.

"Are you the one I’m supposed to meet?"

"You are supposing wrong. I am merely the guide. Consider me your friend." Leon, who had been standing on two furry black legs, switched to all fours and began to walk away through the haze. Rusty followed.

"So, where are we going?" he asked.

"We are going to meet the ones who created you. However, it will be hard to understand."

"Huh?" Rusty said.

"They do not appear as you do, with corporal bodies." Leon, swinging his tail, looked back to Rusty and twitched his nose.

"Ohhh," Rusty said. He wasn’t quite sure what 'corporal' meant, but kept quiet.

Suddenly, Leon stopped and turned to face Rusty. "They are here." He took a springy leap that reminded Rusty of the squirrels he had seen at the park, and landed on Rusty’s shoulder. "I will stay here," he said.

"Welcome," Rusty heard someone say. The voice was distorted, as if the fog were a physical hindrance to the sound. "We are glad you are here."

The voice became crystal clear as the fog lifted in a split second. In its place, Rusty found himself hanging in open space.

Fear flashed through his mind as he remembered humans couldn’t breath in space, but the voice comforted him.

"It is an illusion. You are fine. We would never harm you. We have come to offer you a gift. We wish for you to come with us. To see the universe as we see it. We will study each other. It is an incredible opportunity for you, small one."

Rusty cocked his head. "But why me?"

"You are what we wanted, a being that we could mold into a desired shape. Our technology allowed us to create a new human, but a human that could grow to understand our vast powers. You are special, Rusty." The voice gave a dramatic pause. "You have been given superhuman powers. You already know of your ability to read minds, but there are other powers too. Ones you will learn to use as you grow with us."

The vista before Rusty changed and began to swirl as Rusty was taken on an imaginary journey through space. Planets, solar systems, and galaxies flew by him at incredible speeds. Finally the image slowed and stopped to hover above a dusty brown planet. "Here is where we came from. Our home died many years ago. Since then we have been traveling, just as you will."

Rusty looked down to the desolate planet. "But I have a home."

"We have so much to offer you, child. Please consider our offer."

Leon, perched on Rusty’s shoulder, spoke up. "Your Worthiness, the boy has had enough to think about today. We shall retire, now, if you wish." He wiggled his nose and shook his whiskers.

"Of course, Leon." The scene of the dead planet disappeared and was replaced by darkness.

"Where am I?" Rusty panicked. "I can’t see."

"Open your eyes," Leon said.

"Rusty, you’re back?" Ericka cried. "We were so worried."

Rusty rubbed his aching head. "How long was I out?"

"A couple minutes." Jo said. The entire Pit Crew and Dr. Slate were kneeling over Rusty. "We were getting ready to call the emergency crew."

Rusty gave a meek smile. "I’m fine, it was them. My head hurts."

Ericka gave Jo a concerned look. "Let’s get him checked out anyways. I’ve got a feeling that alien ship has something to do with the aliens Rusty has been communicating with."

"No kidding," Dwayne said from the comm pickup. "I don’t know if anyone cares, but this thing just lit up like a Christmas tree. I’m getting massive energy readings from it. What the....?" Dwayne’s voice ended abruptly as a huge bolt of lightning leapt off the strange vessel and crashed into the Legend One.

"I’m hit," Dwayne cried. Dozens of alarms began to flash on Garth’s control board.

"Dwayne, Dwayne come in." Jo yelled. But she received no reply.

"We have a problem, General. All of Dwayne’s boards are in the red." Garth checked his sensors. "It’s dead in space."

Suddenly, all light in the bay flickered out as a massive rumbling emanated from the deck plating underneath the Pit Crew’s feet.

"The Dark Horse is shutting down," Jo said through the darkness.

On to Part 8!

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