This is Chapter 1 of my current novel-in-progress. The thing's not finished.
|Untitled Project, 20 June 2012
In the words of my glorious generation, wrote the old scientist, humanity's near future will be a total bummer.
He paused, taking a looking around this improvised laboratory--all of its computerized machines along the walls. Most of this equipment wasn't supposed to be invented yet. All of it together would go about the price of several nuclear-powered aircraft carriers--and the planes in them. Speaking of military hardware...
He resumed typing. For all the military might that this country possesses, it would be of no use given the threat which looms large for this planet. Those buffoons who sit in the thrones of power cannot see beyond their immediate wants, infinite greed for material goods when so much is at stake.
A light keening sound came from a computer terminal, followed by a girl's voice. “Hey Dad! Some uninvited dudes are gonna start a party out back. Wanna see?”
“Very well, then. Show me, daughter,” he said aloud. “And, thanks for being more alert than your own paternal parent.”
“Dude, we’ve got you covered!” returned the female voice. A holographic rectangle lit up in front of the old scientist—a three-dimensional image generated in mid air. It was like looking through a computer-generated window, except without the glass. This particular view was one that looked into the backyard. Though it was deepest of night, light enhancement augmented with computer technology set it as so it may as well be a bright and sunny day.
Not so sunny, he thought, looking upon the sight. He had long since stopped being drop-dead shocked and afraid of seeing them.
One of his daughters called them uninvited dudes. He would refer to the intruders as being them. A nondescript label, he doubted if people would understand their origin. They came from somewhere else. And by somewhere else, he did not mean another country.
They were back there. All the major news networks, all the government agencies, all the official people of the official culture, all of the experts and officials said that they do not exist. But there they were, damn it. The old scientist knew that they were real because he had captured some of them alive—first by using weapons of his own creation, then by using some of the technology that they had. Fight fire with fire, he fought them with their own technology.
Now they were again making their presence known. They strutted stiffly around the back yard. Even the way that they moved was unearthly. Just to look on them would scare those who didn’t have experience. The old scientist wasn’t afraid of them anymore, but he did feel a wee bit on the queasy side. They were the threat, sneaking and slinking through darkness and making damnably sure that they never had their presence revealed.
Another lightly sweet female voice came from across the lab. “Uh… Dad? Funky dude alert again! Looks like they got some more of their buds to the party... Are we gonna kick their butts or what?"
"Ever the head-strong daughters, " he responded. "Of course, consider who you get it from. Very well, then." Saying a bit sadly, "Activate perimeter defenses."
He watched the computer screens as things went into action. Titanium alloy shutters closed down on the windows. Bars slipped over the door. Motorized locks buzzed and activated. Even with the metal shielding installed behind the walls and sealing in this basement, he could almost feel the vibration of heavy high-speed electric motors whirring as sections of the front yard, the back yard, and the strips of grass at the sides underwent a transformation. Powerful robotic gun-towers rose above ground-level front, back and around the house. Sections of the house itself slid down to reveal additional artillery of the same design.
After that, a sort of electrified humming indicated that certain defensive measures had activated against which no force on Earth could break through. That is, so long as the capacitors held.
More video images flickered into existence--some of them showing energy readouts on the heavy artillery that was just set up, others showing computerized versions of this place from various angles, crimson dots being symbols for the threats.
This was no longer merely a house, then. "A man's home is his castle," he stated. "Now so more than ever." Defenses in place, offensive weaponry configured for battle, he was ready. "Daughters, to further slake your virtual thirst for experience, I give you say over the firing solutions."
"On it, dad-dude!" went both female voices. Sounding from opposite sides of the lab, it was like hearing them in stereo.
"Wait! Are the opto-acoustic barriers in place as well, do you know?" he asked. The so-called opto-acoustic barriers were the energy-based version of soundproofing walls.
Once turned on, they would generate an electrostatic circular wall of stiffened air molecules--through which no sound would go out. As an added bonus, the stiffened air molecules prevented passage of all light. That way, anyone who looked in the direction of this house at night would just see a wall of darkness and hear nothing but the sound of the breeze--regardless of what happened behind the barrier itself. On a night-time suburban street lined with trees, they would just see an empty lot steeped in shadows. No sound coming through, it would also seem like a quiet empty lot.
"The shields are up, but they're suckin' reserve energy like booze at a frat party," said the other daughter. "Our power supply and stuff’s not gonna last an hour unless we go vampire on the town's power grid."
As in, start tapping into the municipal electric grid. "And result in rolling blackouts throughout the city," he countered. "That would mean first the arrival of power-company personnel and then the police when things seem suspicious."
"Alright, dad. We won’t do it," went came the voice of one of the daughters. There was another humming sound as additional machinery drew more power. "Noise barrier's up. No one's gonna hear the party."
"In space, no one can hear you scream," responded Alan, thinking of an old movie line. "Even better, no one will hear them scream." He entered a few commands into the keyboard. "Arm the gun batteries! Make the nudniks regret having shown up before I had a chance to eat a proper dessert, or dinner for that matter."
As he spoke, the various computer monitors showed the robotic guns going to work. And what guns they were--weapons were of a highly experimental sort. Instead of firing metal rounds propelled by powder, they fired tiny slivers of magnetic alloy metal wrapped in plasma and hurled at speeds a hundred times that of sound. What the projectiles lacked in size, they made up for in impact. While the United States military was publicly revealed to be working on experimental rail guns to allegedly be used some time in the decades to come, these guns were the real deal. Nuclear-powered artillery. No known armor on Earth could stand against such weapons.
Even better, this enemy didn’t bother with armor. When those guns went to work, florescent-bright flashes of light accompanied massive sounds like thunder. Every shot absolutely destroyed whatever enemy it targeted. Even in its experimental phase, this technology was good for targets up to three miles away. But it wouldn't be polite to go about destroying other peoples’ real estate. The energy shields around the yard kept the rounds from leaving, though shots aimed downward did leave a few craters—and left the enemies in pulped pieces.
As advanced technologically as the guns were, materials technology on Earth only went so far. Material technology simply hadn't come far enough to keep those damned weapons from being subject to overheating. It was like trying to make a twenty-first century jet engine from the cast iron of the Middle Ages. Geniuses of old times had plenty of big ideas back then. Trouble was, they didn't have the supporting technologies to make good on their brainstorming. Wouldn't some people piss their pants if they found out that some genius of olden days came up with an idea for advanced computers--when people were still puttering around on horseback in the Wild West? Add to that how the Ancient Greeks had ideas for flying machines. The Ancient Greeks. Again, it came down to supporting tech. Can’t take a trip to the moon when good metals for oxygen tanks and space suits hadn’t even been invented yet.
"Dad! West-side guns are just about toast. Coolant's low, and the barrels are gonna melt!" came the voice of one daughter. "If we tone down the barriers by nine percent, we can jazz up the coolant power a bit."
"But also an eighteen percent reduction of barrier efficacy," said the old scientist. "The noise alone would make it sound as if there was a fireworks show. The neighbors would panic, call the police. No police could stand against them. This is my fight, daughters."
"Hey, it's our fight too!" came the other daughter's voice from the right side of this lab. "That's why we were created, right?"
As seen on the holographic monitors, they were still being blasted to bits. If they were ordinary enemies in an ordinary war, at least some of them would have at least begun to scream in agony as they were being blasted through and through. Not even tank armor could withstand the impacts of those experimental nuclear-powered projectile weapons. Well, then again, those morons out there didn't bother with armor anyway and just resorted to sheer numbers. For every ten of them blasted, there seemed to be another ten just as ready to run up and die in a fiery blaze of glory.
"No, daughters. The fight is not yet yours," he insisted. A smile. "Who knows? Perhaps it will be over because they decide that this boring little world of world of ours isn't worth the fools who live on it? We could overwhelm the enemy invaders with sheer mediocrity. Just show them the school statistics of all the tens of thousands of Americans who have dropped out of school and failed math courses. They will run for the hills and never come back! Or they'll just decide to put us out of our collective misery, thinking that humans are too stupid to live. Present company not included, of course. Hmm?"
The holographic monitors revealed more bad news. More of them were amassing at the west side of the house. More of the enemy was getting gunned down, but that came at the cost of the guns and their energy-based ordnance heating up even more. With them ganging up on one part of the defenses, it made things harder on that side of this house-fort.
The enemy was getting smart. Smart enemies are not a good thing. Worse still, there were no piles of bodies. Every time one of them died, they hit the dirt for more than a second before vaporizing in a puff of smoke. Suicidal, smart, and they never left a trace of evidence beyond the destruction they caused.
"Thank goodness they never had an interest in organized crime," the old scientist mused aloud. "The FBI would never solve their crimes in a million years without evidence. Never mind it if humans probably wouldn't even have ten years of existence if they decided to invade."
"Dad! West-side artillery banks are a skosh away from max heat capacity!" came a daughter's frightened voice. "More freakazoids showing up too!"
In response to this bit of information, the old scientist sat back. He reached into a drawer and pulled out a cigar. No researcher in a sane frame of mind would smoke in a lab full of multi-billion dollar, ultra-advanced, super-computerized equipment. Ordinarily speaking, that is. It would take more than a little tar-smoke to put a damper on this stuff. After all, it was designed with military applications in mind. As for what the smoke would do to his lungs in the future, there were more pressing threats at hand--such as him not having much of a future. At least in the past, he bothered to put up the defenses. But if he could do it over again, he would have… No, he would have done exactly the same thing.
"The past is gone, and the future is not here, which is why the present is a gift," he said aloud. He tapped a special golden button at one corner of another keyboard. A high-resolution image of his wife appeared in the center holographic display. It was buckets better than looking at computer readouts of nuclear-powered weaponry failing to fend off an invasion.
"Ah, Tsippi... You always wanted me to live life better instead of goofing around in laboratories. Go to the beach more often, maybe? If our daughters-to-be were made a lot earlier, we could let them dress up in bikinis and break the hearts of local boys while we sit back and laugh. A loving wife and two beautiful children, what could be more precious?" He choked off a sob, a tear coming to an eye. He tapped the golden button on the corner of the keyboard. "But not now. Tsippi will never come back. And you two, my daughters, are not here yet."
An awful shuddering sound.... A spray of sparks came from one side of the lab. One of the holographic displays lit up with all kinds of warning signs. "Dad! Like, we just lost two of our west-side guns. All the other guns over there are gonna kick the bucket too."
"Not an unexpected development, hmm?" He stepped across the lab to where one of the malfunctioning machines was letting off its spray of sparks, he and used those sparks to light his cigar. "Daughters, I would have saved these cancer-sticks to celebrate your birth, but I just may not be around to see that event. Better to go out in a blaze of glory than allow the enemy unlimited satisfaction." That said, trailing gray smoke, he stepped slowly toward one machine in particular.
The top of this contraption slid open on hydraulic pistons. Inside was something that looked like an Israeli military assault rifle--a Tavor 21, to be exact. The exterior of the weapon came from the one he utilized in his military days while still living in Israel. But since making this lab, he had the opportunity to make the weapon more than it was--a miniaturized version of the very kind of nuclear-powered weaponry to be used against the enemy.
Again, another prototype created with metals technology only from this century. As such, firing the thing could let off some pretty nasty ultraviolet bursts. To avoid damaging his sight, he had to put on special ultraviolet sunglasses. There was no healthy reason whatsoever to put his cigar in his mouth, but he did it anyway.
Sunglasses, cigar, and an assault rifle. "Schwarzenegger could maybe play me in a movie. After all, he is the right age for it now," he said. He then began walking for the thick vault-like door. "Be so kind as to unseal this."
Now both girls' voices spoke in unison. "Not cool, dad! Not! Cool! You totally can’t go out there!"
"What I choose to do, that is what I shall do," said the old scientist. "It is me that they want. If I am stopped, then they shall cease their assault. They have the idea that no one else on Earth chooses to pursue my line of work. Little do they know that my work shall live on... In you."
"Hell no, dude!" one of them pleaded. "If you go out there, they’re gonna toast ya!" There was the sound clicking as more electric motorized locks on the vault-like door set into place. "Not gonna happen, dad!"
"I must, and you know," he said, his words matched with puffs of cigar smoke. Speaking to the computerized systems, "Override code, authorization golf hotel oscar sierra tango, niner-niner. Computer, unlock this door. I've got an appointment with certain doom."
The vault-like armored door clicked and whirred as thick titanium bolts slid aside. A heavier whirring sounded out as the door slid sideways--revealing a short stairwell which led upward to a corridor up and out.
"Very well then. Let us rock!" he shouted. Clicking a metal button on the side of his experimental assault rifle, the thing hummed to life. Then he went for the metal stairway up and out. The vault-like armored door closed behind him.
Some time later, all the frightful red warning and danger icons on all the computer monitors faded out. The threat had passed, though most all the defensive artillery weapons had ceased working due to overheating. Indeed, the enemy had ceased their activity once they had him. The metal shutters rolled up on the windows. Those robotic gun-towers slid back into the ground. Finally, the opto-acoustic barriers went down.
The house had transformed itself once more into a typical sort of place to be found on a typical suburban street--even if there were plenty of smoking craters in the ground. So maybe someone had done a little digging? No one would suspect nuclear-powered artillery. But in the end, the threat was gone. So was the old scientist.
Down here in the laboratory, the daughters would not weep tears because they did not have eyes to weep with. That was because his daughters did not physically exist yet.
"Want to know what I'm doing this summer, Mom?" asked Steve Holloway, all of nineteen years old, kicking back on the couch. Though he ate and drank plenty, he retained that lanky frame which bespoke somebody with an appreciable metabolism. Blue jeans and tee shirt worn with sneakers, that's all a young guy needs to wear. He popped a can of something bubbly. "Nothing, that's what. I graduated from high school, and that ought to be good enough for anybody."
"Graduated from high school third in your class, you mean!" exclaimed Linda Holloway, the mother, a similarly lean woman, her blonde hair framing a face that hid her true age rather well. Looking good just may have also come from working with celebrities. That, and a continued ballet regime between job stints over in a world-famous city kept her fast and fit.
"Nope. I'm doing absolutely nothing...because I do a great deal of things for eight months out of twelve," he responded.
His mother put hands on skirt-covered hips. "So you have no interest in an all-expenses paid trip to a luxury hotel at Orlando Studios?"
"Nope," went Steve. "Who wants to hang out with a bunch of millionaire celebrities? They're more boring in real life than they are on the screen."
"And you have no interest in the bubbly female groupies looking to use you to get close to those celebrities?" added his mother.
To that, Steve gave pause. "Well... No. No, I'm not interested in all the girls…who come flocking to me…when they find out that I'm part of the entourage that surrounds to the biggest names in Hollywood."
"So the next time somebody with too much money decides to give away a free car they don't want anymore, you won't be interested in that either?"
"Fancy cars, cute girls, I'm not into any of that," insisted Steve. "I think I'll go for chastity. Maybe swear off meat for a while. In fact, there ought to be somewhere I can pick up a nice scratchy black robe and a pair of sandals. Probably not hemp sandals. They’d give me the munchies."
"Young man, you are not going to play the part of friar-monk while you're living under my roof!" went his mom. "You will come with me to Orlando. You will stay for free in a luxury hotel. And you will act as a third wheel in catering to the latest blonde bombshell from Los Angeles, Jenna Smith."
"Actually, last I checked, Jenna Smith let her hair go back to brunette," he said. "Increased her drool factor times ten among all the fanboys and emo-girl followers. Anyway, I'm not going to hang out with people who have more money than they know what to do with. I'm not going to party down four days a week and get paid a thousand a week to do it, too. I refuse!"
"Fine!" went his mom, throwing up her hands. "Just leave me all alone to get hit on by the latest hunk of tall dark manflesh every Thursday night!"
"Fine!" yelled Steve. "Have a good time in Orlando! Have fun with all the Hollywood party animals! I'll just sit here on a quiet suburban street where nothing ever happens and nothing ever will and everyone else is over the age of fifty. Hang out with the senior citizens, it'll be drop-dead cool."
"Fine!" insisted mom. "You do that!" A smile.
"Fine!" went Steve, matching her smile, easier to do because he inherited some of her facial features. He then took another sip of his root beer. "But seriously, it’s going to be the same deal as last summer? Get paid to be an idiot?"
"No, you're too smart for that because MIT doesn't take idiots," countered his mom. "Act like a moron, yes. But not an idiot."
"To think that they turned away the valedictorian," mused Steve aloud. "Ah well! She went to study music anyway. Might run into her one of these days again." A pause. "Hey, I haven't heard from Mr. Lowe in a while." He nodded sideward. "Is he okay?"
Linda took on a far-away look. Mr. Lowe, a friend to the family, he was also a friend to the neighborhood. Before Mr. Lowe moved in nine years back, eyebrows went up in inquiry as movers moved a great deal of boxes into the house, workmen went in soon after, all kinds of noise coming from there. After that, Mr. Lowe moved in, friendly and generous to everyone. Neighbors soon found out that he had a knack for repairing anything electronic or mechanical with just a toolkit, a trip to a shop and a smile. Used to do some contract work for the government, he once told her. Maybe I get my hand in every so often, but I'm officially retired. Said with a wink.
Of all the nice old people on the block, he was the nicest though not the oldest. "No... I haven't heard from him, now that you think of it." A knock on the door. "You get it, mom. You're closer."
Even while his mother had that look on her face, Steve got up himself to go over there. Mom didn't order pizza. Instead of mentally beating himself up over all the possibilities of whoever it might be, he just opened the door.
Outside the door stood two girls. They had lean looks athletes involved in all the female sports at school, yet their skin had that flawless creamy tone--legs and arms left exposed by the shortness of skirt and sleevelessness of silk blouses, the dark silk matching their long dark hair, a contrast to almost electrifying blue eyes... The calf-length strapped boots really nailed the outfits, though. The rest of their anatomy would be especially attention-grabbing to most any heterosexual male--Steve included--but it was their eyes which got to him. Huge, dark blue eyes that seemed to sparkle. Was it possible for people to have eyes that big? These girls were like living dolls.
His mom's voice echoed from behind him. "Steve? Who's at the..." Coming over to the open door, standing behind her son to see who it was. "Door? Good afternoon, young ladies? How may we help you?" A not-so-subtle elbow at her son's back. Wake up, kiddo.
"Uhmm..." The girl on the left looked up at the woman. "You're Miss Holloway, right? We came here to ask for your help. It's kinda…complicated. Dad said you might be able to help us."
"Yeah," added the girl on the right. "Dad didn't tell us about anybody else, and we sorta wanted to be careful about our secret."
A hand just under her chin. Now came Linda's professional-but-courteous tone--the kind of voice Steve heard whenever his mom was dealing with slightly clueless child-actors. "I'm sorry. Who is your father?"
"Alan Lowe," they said simultaneously, giving each other a look. The one on the right put up a hand. Hold on a sec. "Yeah, Alan Lowe. That's dad. It's like... We don't know you too well...? But dad said you'd be the first person we could trust 'cause you deal with food for your job."
"Don't know what dad meant by that, but he could be pretty whack like that," said the girl on the left. "Actually, he said a lotta stuff we'll probably never understand no matter how long we're around you crazy humans."
"Crazy humans?" went Linda, her voice rising indignantly, some of that tone also brought on by confusion. Just maybe these pretty girls also had a pretty little mental illness going on in their heads.
"Wait a minute. You just used the past tense," said Steve. "You mean that Mr. Lowe's…"
"He's gone, alright? Like… Are you happy now!" yelled the girl on the left. The one on the right went wide-eyed, gently biting her lower lip while her twin continued talking. "Look... We've been pretty broke up about this, okay? "
"It's just that...” Linda gestured to herself and her son. "We never knew that Mr. Lowe had daughters. He was elderly. His wife died years go. But we've never seen you before. Did you come to attend his funeral?"
"Nope. We’ve been here all along," said the girl on the right. "Dad was working on us. We just weren't ready yet."
"Working on you?" asked Linda. A person works on machines, not on people. In her mind, these two darling girls suddenly seemed a few cards short of a deck. Then again, Linda had seen her share of nutcases in dealing with celebrities. Best to indulge them a bit, just to keep them cooperative. "Okay... So what do you want to do now?"
"We've gotta show you what dad was doing," went the girl on the right, "before some bad guys come along and try to take it and stuff. It's some kinda new technology he made that he said was gonna be really, really important."
"It wasn't enough to save him, though," added the one on the left. A faraway look came to those dark blue eyes of hers. "Anyway, like what sis was saying, we've gotta show you. You probably won't believe us unless you see for yourself." Turned around. "Are you guys comin' or what?"
"Okay," went Steve, all too willing to go along with whatever a pair of very nice-looking young females were asking to do. Mom grabbed a shoulder.
"Wait. You already knew our name and about Mr. Lowe...if you are his daughters. But what are your names?"
The girl on the left put a hand to herself. "I'm Lana, Rana's sister."
The girl on the right did the same. "I'm Rana, Lana's sister."
"So you're Lana... And you're Rana," said Steve.
"Dude! You're already gettin' off on the wrong foot. I'm Lana. That's Rana. Just to make things easier for you, I'll stand on one side as so you don't get us mixed up."
"Whatever, he's a total geek. But a geek can have some uses." Both of them grabbed a hand each.
Linda opened her mouth to protest the attitudes of those teenage-looking hellions. The lady only had one son and didn't want him corrupted. But to her knowledge, the wild life of a college freshman could already have done so. For her son's sake, mom followed.