MOONJACK! End Of Act Two

Ferret chose ‘quietly’. Dr Russeau led the way, with him flanked by two guards. He probably could have taken them out, except he was afraid any rough and tumble might knock his swan headpiece loose. He hoped they’d taken it to be attached, a part of him, as really it was the most alien thing about his current (ridiculous) appearance, but if push came to shove and it did come off he would have to explain that it was merely a fancy hat worn by only the most revered members of his race. Or something to that effect.

He was beginning to almost enjoy this making things up as he went along. Knucks had been right: these people had led a sheltered existence. Ferret couldn’t help wondering what his colleague would make of how short they were. He hadn’t predicted that, had he?

Still, as amusing as it was to be escorted along by gnomes, it wasn’t quite so nice to be reminded that he was now a prisoner. And, whenever he stumbled slightly in his platforms, the guards would prod him along with those funny looking guns of theirs. The one consolation was that they weren’t nearly as pointy as most other guns so the pressure of those prods was distributed over a much greater surface area. Ferret wasn’t much of a one for science, but it was okay by him when it meant any nuisance like this being less of a pain in the ass.

Thankfully it wasn’t too long before Dr Russeau was standing back and ushering him and his accompanying guards into the medical centre.

There was nothing unexpected about the room – a couple of beds against one wall, monitors above, panels of instruments and storage cupboards lining the other walls. This was a medical centre devoted to the care and treatment of patients, not breakthroughs in innovative design. Which was a shame, because Ferret was generally far more interested in the latter.

While the guards helpfully guided him towards one of the beds with a lot of stern weaponly gesturing, the doctor went over to a nearby crash cart and plucked a pair of rubber gloves from a tray. She pulled them on, but they were about ten sizes too big for her so there was none of the customary squeaking, stretching noises.

Even so, Ferret eyed the way the fingers flopped at the end of her tiny hands and found their dangliness oddly intimidating. “Are those strictly necessary?” he said, not ready to lie back until he knew exactly what the impending procedure involved.

Dr Russeau finished tugging the gloves all the way up her forearm. “Just relax.”

“Relax what, specifically?”

As she set about securing the gloves near her elbow with a couple of elastic bands, Ferret could tell she was getting slightly aggravated. Her bedside manner wasn’t going to improve any by the fact that she was going to have to stand on the crash cart to have any hope of reaching him.

“It – ah- must be a problem coping with oversized equipment.”

“We’ve learned to deal with it.”

“Oh, me too.” Ferret laughed to cover a niggling concern. Medical scans had not been part of the plan and the scheme could fall apart if these people saw through his disguise. He thought he’d best try to deter her from too close an examination. “I just thought you should know. Since you’re going to be scanning me and all, you’d best be prepared. These trousers only tell half the story.”

“Trust me, I’m a doctor. There’s not much I haven’t seen.”

“It’s my most alien appendage,” he threw in for good measure.

Dr Russeau, to her credit, merely blinked. She was either a true mistress of her emotions or a creature of limited facial expression. She beckoned to the two guards. “Here, help me up on the crash cart, will you?”

“Now, wait, I think we should discuss – ” Ferret was about to suggest a lengthy discussion of the procedure. It was what most doctors did for their patients, after all, letting them know what their operation entailed. He didn’t suppose that aliens extended the same courtesy to abductees prior to a good probing, but he hoped that, as a guest of the Moonbase, he might be owed a verbal consultation before anything more invasive occurred.

He was saved by the beep.

Dr Russeau sighed, faintly irritably, and turned to the comm screen. Her eyes twinkled dimly as she saw the face filling the screen. “John?” First name terms, these two definitely had he hots for each other. Or at least the lukewarms.  “What is it? I was just about to get started on scanning the alien.”

“The alien?” muttered Ferret. His status as ‘guest’ had definitely slipped. “I do have a name you know.”

“Sorry, Henna. That creature’s still on the loose. It’s knocked out two more of our men down at the trav-tube terminal. We’re going after it, but these men could use your help. Isolate our guest in the medical bay and station guards on the door.”

“I’ll be right there,” she assured him. “And John,” she added. “Be careful.”

Oh yes, thought Ferret. It was love, all right. Very touching.

And, more importantly, no touching for him.

***

It was a crime, the quantity of fun Knucks could have with one arm. In this case, the one that was currently on a covert infiltration op deep in enemy territory.

“Detachable is nothing,” Knucks would often say when people remarked with surprise that his cybernetic arms were, well, detachable. “All arms are ultimately detachable. Even yours.” And almost everyone was willing to take his word for it. “No, these are detachable, re-attachable and remotely operable.” In fact, considering he had lost his originals in a high-stakes gambling game, Knucks considered that he’d done very well for himself. At times, he missed his real arms – of course he did – but frankly they couldn’t do half the stuff that these ergosynaptic machine versions could.

When it came to sending them out on missions, he tried to keep things fair, so for the Moonbase op, he’d chosen the left. It was capable of some autonomic function so, for instance, once it was safely on board the station’s trav-tube he could leave it to fend for itself while he went to take a leak. When he returned and tapped back into its POV, everything was hunky dory, although the view, courtesy of a tiny camera in one of its knuckles, was jumping up and down and he realised it was drumming its fingers impatiently on the deck. Soon the trav-tube came to a stop and Knucks steered it off the train and sent it stealthing around the Moonbase corridors on the desired course.

Now, he was guiding it up to another corner for a peek down the next corridor. Everything on the Moonbase was helpfully signposted – albeit in an unhelpfully retro computer font – so it had been no problem negotiating a route to the requisite section.

DEFENCE SCREEN GENERATOR ROOM, the large door was labelled. DANGER. NO UNAUTHORISED ENTRY. UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. SERIOUSLY.

The ample warnings were backed up by two guards stationed, one on either side of the door. They were facing this way, which ruled out the sneaking up behind them option. Still, Knucks wasn’t averse to a full frontal assault when circumstances demanded, so he had the arm lock the targets in its little microtronic brain and sent the command to attack.

The arm coiled like a snake, then lunged, propelling itself along the smooth corridor floor at speed. Both men reacted instantly to the flash of silver coming straight at them. Their eyes went wide. They both said, “What the – !” Then they reached for their sidearms. If they’d done things in a different order, it might have turned out differently, but the arm was upon them.

The guards were such tiny guys, they really never stood a chance.

Who said size didn’t matter? Significantly, not the short dead ones. Knucks had been surprised to find everyone on the base so severely stunted, but he guessed it was another effect of the Vorpal Tunnel Syndrome. He didn’t especially care, as long as it made his job easier. Besides, he had other things to think about.

He glanced at his wrist. Then realised that he’d forgotten to remove his watch when he’d packed his left arm in Ferret’s capsule. Oh well, it was probably nearly time to open up communications. He hopped out of his seat and set off to brief the Goylish commander. He could always check the clock up on the bridge.

Lefty could handle the rest from here on.

***

Ferret wasn’t one for sitting around when left to his own devices. Even less so when left to someone else’s. The ‘nice’ Dr Russeau may have locked him in and stationed guards outside, but they hadn’t strapped him down to the bed. He was free to roam around the confines of the medical centre and there were plenty of devices worth investigating.

He toyed casually with some of the surgical instruments, assessing their potential as torture implements. Torture and interrogation were, along with fashion, among his principal areas of expertise, of course. Which, as well as his naturally squeamish sensibilities, was one reason he had been particularly anxious about probing. It felt too much like role reversal. A professional torturer of his standing should never be the one on the table. He should be, well, standing – over the victim. He imagined a baker would feel much the same way if asked to trade positions with one of his cream-filled puff pastries.

Sadly, he had to conclude that these surgical devices would be of no use to him. Most seemed limited to emitting light displays and random sequences of bleeps, flutey-whistles and blippety-plinks like some  kindergarten electronic jazz combo let loose in a music shop. Although one did turn out to be a laser scalpel, which produced a high-pitched whine from Ferret just before he dropped it.

No, for effective implements of torture, you couldn’t beat retro. The subjects only had to look at some of the more inventively styled metallic appliances and their nerve would break. Which made Ferret’s job a lot easier, sparing him the sight of blood and/or the unfortunate attacks of sympathy pains that would occasionally plague him during a session.

Abandoning the handheld gadgetry, Ferret wandered off to inspect the storage units. Then inspected the wall-mounted banks of instruments, idly pressing buttons or sliding sliders that particularly attracted his eye. None of them were labelled Self-Destruct, so he reasoned he was fairly safe to play. None of them appeared to do much beyond altering the pattern of lights flickering here and there on different panels and he was considering trying some of the less interesting-looking controls when his tour brought him face to face with a door marked Iso Lab.

Hmm, he thought. Now why hadn’t they locked him in there? He was a potential alien menace. Iso – assuming it was suffixed with -lation – would surely have been just the thing. Possibly he was jumping to conclusions, but it suggested to him that it was occupied. Maybe there was something already iso-ed in there, something he wasn’t supposed to see.

Which, naturally, was just a gauntlet-slap in the face of curiosity.

Tum-tee-tumming to himself, partly to drive out the weird electronica-jazz non-tune he had going through his head, Ferret set about fiddling with the keypad lock. B&E was more Mr Knucks’s specialty, but Ferret had broken into a few stores in his time when he’d seen an outfit or a pair of shoes he didn’t fancy paying for.

The lock surrendered with a relenting hum, a good note on which to end Ferret’s little song. The door opened with a hiss and Ferret walked in, ready to have a good nose around.

The chamber was in darkness.

“Identify,” rasped a voice that sounded like it had been born of a lifetime of chainsmoking and swallowing sandpaper.

Ferret glanced nervously about. Slowly the lights flickered on and the room was bathed in soft peach.

Ferret watched as the shadowy form in the centre came to life.

“Identify,” it said again.

It was a corpse.

Sitting in an acceleration couch, the grim skeletal form was hunched and twisted, with one hand clutching, claw-like, at an armrest and its skull lolling to one side. Which was fair enough, since there was probably minimal muscle tissue left in the neck, but – much to the discomfort of Ferret’s stomach – there were dried and shrivelled organs visible inside the ribcage and in its lap, as well as a few parched rags of flesh hanging here and there from the bones. It had been shedding bits of itself too, dropping autumnal flakes all about the chair like confetti gone bad. Wires ran from contacts placed about the skull to a screen suspended from the ceiling.

It was also the only humanoid figure Ferret had so far encountered on the base that was what he would consider full-size. But next to its condition that seemed entirely incidental.

“Ewwwwwwwwwwww,” was all Ferret could say.

To Be Continued…

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1 Comment

  1. […] Of Act Two: 7) Here. Alien visitor Zanac is threatened with […]


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