A midday sun, scorches through a blackened haze of polluted atmosphere. The dirty sky is a host to lightening strikes, complementing an electric frenzy on the horizon. Out of the ground, a blinding window of white-light opens up. Just as abruptly, the portal closes in on itself, leaving behind a bold silhouette, striding across the horizon.
The outline of this silhouette is stout and bulky. A man. A drifter. An outlier of post-society. Or pre-society? Long and weary journeys on foot, behind him. Currently looking for a rest stop. And a quick-cash, robot repair job.
Near the outskirts of a small dung heap of a town is a predictably tattered signpost that reads, Welcome to Anubisville. With a knowing sigh, the once great and powerful mercenary man, Fletcher, proceeds to the nearest motel.
The back-lighting that pours in the doorway to the Five Moons Motel, blinds the sweet, young elfin girl working the front desk. Her purple eyes squint to see the soon to be occupant of room number seven.
She immediately observes that the man in dirty, faded blue jeans and dusty leather coat is not from anywhere nearby. Although the sword sheathed on his back is not itself, out of order.
“Looking for a room,” grumbles Fletcher. “With an extended stay and a freezer for gin.”
“Certainly sir, I have just the room for you,” says the short, angelic brunette.
“My name is Alice and I attend to all our guests here. I’m sure you’ll find it cozy.”
A slimy snail of a creature enters the room and abruptly drops a key off, squealing about scrambled video wall reception.
“I won’t hold you to any promises,” Fletcher says to Alice.
With a smile, Alice collects the key to number seven. “If you’ll follow me, I’ll show you to your room.”
Alice leads Fletcher down a dingy walkway.
“Do you watch the vidsceen much?” she asks.
“None at all. All I need is quiet,” he answers.
“Well, that’s mainly what you get, this side of town.
Aside from the occasional dwarf dust-up,” Alice says.
“We do keep a robot maid on-hand that drops in. But we can easily program it to your needs.”
“My needs are limited to making some quick scratch. Your bot doesn’t need wrenching, does it?” asks Fletcher.
“Afraid not. Papa can do all that magic when we need it,” responds Alice.
“You’ll have better luck a few miles in town. We have plenty of droids that do odds and ends. Ask around and I’m sure you’ll find luck.”
Luck, Fletcher thinks to himself. Haven’t had much of that in podunk towns like this. But by the looks of the help in this rundown flytrap, his luck might be set to change. He takes the key from Alice and mumbles his thanks. All he cares to do now is set down his sword and pack and draw down the shades.
The following morning begins for Fletcher at the sound of a droid, bleeping at his door.
“Son of a bitchin’ metalhead,” says Fletcher, as he throws off his bed sheets. Opening the door, Fletcher is greeted with enthusiasm. “It’s a fine morning here at the Five Moons, partly cloudy, the temperature is 65 degrees.”
Service androids are programmed to be joyous. They come with available custom programming to whichever personality a client selects. There exist thousands of nuanced traits. Gender, vocal pitch, accent, age, etc.
“Will you be needing a report of todays headlines, sir?” asks the droid.
“Bring your tin-can ass in here,” responds Fletcher.
The service droid steps in the room as Fletcher sleepily plops back down on the edge of the bed.
“Service android reprogramming request.”
Lights fire up in the droids computerized eyeballs. “Reprogramming request is underway,” it fires back.
“Room seven requires no wakeup call,” Fletcher continues. “Your primary mission is to keep room seven’s freezer stocked with ice. Crushed ice. You are a woman, age 24. You have the voice of Maila Nurmi. I’ll call you Nadia.”
“Very well, big boy,” purrs the android, its articulated hand on the hip. “Ice cold cubes coming right up.”
Alice is entering data into an outdated computer surface when Fletcher stalks towards the desk. His face is like a piece of weathered leather underneath a constant five-o’clock shadow. His hair, a mop of unattended to wavy brown curls.
He doesn’t usually bother asking for information, preferring to follow his instincts about small towns. But Alice gives good reason to. Her naïve innocence reminds him of a place he wished still existed somewhere.
“Good morning… I’m sorry I never got your name,” Alice says.
“Fletcher,” He sheepishly provides as he averts direct eye contact.
“How can I help you?”
“You always here at the desk?”
Alice moves closer to him, away from her work.
“It’s my papa’s place. I guess you could say I manage things, day to day. It’s a family business. We don’t get many visitors to tell you the truth. We have an odd little village here.”
Fletcher smolderingly stares out the window.
“Does this odd little village happen to have a diner?” asks Fletcher.
“Sure. I guess the main one is Pharaoh’s Place. About a mile west of here, if you take Sekhmet,” she answers. “The owner, Sharon is involved with everything in town. You might ask her about local repair work.”
“That’s kind of you to mention. I may just do that.”
“She tends to be not to be very kind though,” Alice warns.
“Unkind folks are my specialty,” Fletcher says. Well, I’ll see you later then.”
Anubisville is in deed a strange little place. A stain on a map. A run-down outskirt in a forgotten land. The outlines of the city are heavily wooded, probably overrun by all types of fairies and Sasquatches. The interior of the town is marked by technological decay mixed up with the trappings of a backwater fishing town. A blend of new and old. Technology, unattended to for too long. Isolated by superstitions and local customs.
Humanoid robots have been a part of the culture for at least 20 years. And that, lagged behind most of the world. The town’s only computer scientist, Dr. Reich, pushed then mayor, Jolyon Drake, to approve the use of service based androids. It wasn’t long after the first wave of bots became operative, that Reich began tweaking with the programming.
Reich was the intermediary between android technology firms and the town. His office, providing a base of operations to dispatch the bots from, made his further after-hours development possible. Reich was a lonely man in his twilight years. His tweaking began as a small project that would provide him a truly sentient A.I. companion.
Their correspondence would carry on in private only. At some point in the relationship with his personal droid, he began to implement tweaks to all the droids that came back into his lab for service maintenance. His hope was that the citizens in town would be pleased by an advanced level of correspondence and awareness among their robot brethren. And the town’s people were very much amazed by the sudden changes observed. Droids that offered complements, philosophical wisdom or told semi-lewd jokes. All this didn’t please Mayor Drake in the least. Local mythological customs forbid the existence of artificially-intelligent beings. Intelligence lay in the afterlife. The land of the dead. The realm of the Gods.
Drake had made himself a demi-god in life. And a pseudo-god in death. Not hard to pull off in a bizarre little town. Aided in his pursuit of personal worship, by his wife, Sharon. Together, they owned the town’s most popular dirty spoon diner, Pharaoh’s Place. In life, Drake was more than a mayor. He was a self-styled guru. A purported shaman. Without much education, he got ahold of some Sumerian tablets, bartering on the Internet. Soon after, he began appearing in Town Square holding them up and shouting in a “behold!” style rant.
As questions from the locals came up that he couldn’t answer quickly enough, Sharon would jump forward and chastise them with, “these are things that only the immortals shall know!”
Drake morphed more and more into a Marshall Applewhite character. His loopy mythology, placing him into a central role among the hierarchy of ancient alien God’s. Also referred to alternately as, ‘Sky Lords’.
Sharon was a decent seamstress, putting together some fairly impressive outfits for them to wear around. Pajama-like, patterned with hieroglyphics. She also ordered the local craftsman to create a python-headed metal shaft for Drake to pound against the floor when he prophesied about cosmic nukes. The metalworker was sworn to secrecy, as the public story about the mystic shaft was that it materialized from the depths of space. A symbolic gift from the Gods, crowning Drake as a reincarnated Master. One of his major decrees was the order to halt all unauthorized programming of service androids with added humanity.
This was shortly after one of Drake’s own service droids asked him if he was aware of the Branch Davidian legend.
Dr. Reich reluctantly reversed his Singularity efforts. Sunk into a deep depression, he later jumped to his death off Dwyer Bridge into Budd River. He did not go alone however, taking his personal bot, Heath6, down with him. He could never bring himself to back generate his friend and sought to solve the problem that way. No one said Reich was all-together well. Heath6 was not destroyed after all, another Reich failure, and ended up washing up on the coastline.
When Heath6 reintegrated into town, Drake never put two and two together. The humanoid was in fact programmed with self-awareness and knew its only chance of survival lay in pretending to be just another stupid bucket of bolts. When it was clear Drake was dying, Sharon took the reigns of information transmission. She was always more power-drunk than he ever had energy for. She often muttered about how she could have turned a real man like Johnny Dulles, into a true ‘Star Master’. Her public tune of true love and happiness for Drake emerged as soon as he met his end, suspiciously tumbling down a flight of steps.
“He forgot to carry his God Shaft that day,” she repeatedly cried out in the local media.
A final broadcast of Drake’s after-death wishes surfaced, assigning all wealth and control to his dear, dear Sharon. Without whom, his awakening would not been possible. She feigned appropriate reluctance in fulfilling his final decree. Her first order of business was to create a secret altar to her hubbies mummified remains. From this altar, vast amounts of power would be transmitted to her from beyond, in order to continue the dynasty. To construct the hidden altar room, she enlisted the aid of several personal droids, including Heath6. She ordered them to dig her an underground lair. Hidden in plain sight. Underneath her very own, Pharaoh’s Place.
“Proceed 2 blocks west and you will precisely locate Pharaoh’s Place at 6767 Sekhmet Street,” says the male designed android. “Will that be all the service you need mister?”
Fletcher considers some choice words. The way android skin looked fleshy and rubbery at the same time greatly disturbs him.
“No, no, that will be all.”
“Make sure to test the Pharaoh Float. I hear it is superb!” beams the bot.
Arriving at Pharaoh’s, Fletcher observes the hieroglyphic columns that frame the doorway. How Goddamned odd, he thinks. He forces himself to recall he had fixed robots in stranger lands. If he could manage to find enough work here, there’d be a remote beach front to escape to. Although, he had acquired the same idea two towns back.
Pushing open the door, he sees a diner like he’s been in a million times, in a million little towns – wood paneling, bass mounted on the wall, a wood-carved fisherman, a large canvas of pyramids, a digital music box…
Stepping up to the horseshoe shaped bar, he sits down on a stool. The sole droid waitress marches up to greet him. Her name tag identifies her as, Shelly.
“Welcome to Pharaoh’s Place. Home of the famous, Pharaoh Float. Today’s special is fresh catfish. Care for a beverage?”
“I’ll start with a coffee. Black as a tire,” Fletcher answers.
As Shelly scooted off, a flurry of yells ignited from the kitchen. It must be the nasty old Sharon, Fletcher thinks.
“If you’d just follow my recipe it wouldn’t have that acidy flavor!”
“Mother, mother, mother loving shit! Your taste buds are as loony as a squirrel’s brain!”
Fletcher noted a decrepit old man in a corner booth mumble indecipherably to someone or perhaps only to himself. The kitchen door flings open, a blur of a woman flies out. The eyes, Fletcher notices the eyes. Piercing yellow rage. This was indeed, the heavy-set proprietor, Sharon. In her hand she carries a platter of catfish over to a couple of smoking fisherman at a rickety table.
“It’s as good as it’s going to get Bobby! I’m working with a mental cripple back there,” she explains.
Turning away she noticed the brooding stranger in leather slumped at her table. Shelly had just set down a mug of coffee in front of him when Sharon decides to shoo the bot away.
“I’ll handle this one here skinny. Why don’t you help bubble-head in back with the stew. He needs a real brain to work with.”
She makes her way around the counter to get a better look at the newcomer.
“Passing through town, are ya?” Sharon barks with suspicion. She knew every face in town.
“I suppose that’s what you can call it,” grimaces Fletcher. “Hoping to find some work, actually.”
“Is that right? Well, what the hell can you do with those hands?"
“I wrench bots on the fritz mainly. I’m quick and have my own tools.”
“You don’t say.” Sharon thought deeply for a moment. “Well then, you came to the right place. That is if you’re as good as you say. Just so happens I have a few androids that need work. My repairman in town is an unreliable drunk.”
Fletcher cracks a smile at that. “I take a drink now and then but it hasn’t become a sin.”
“One I can have you get started on right away. I can’t tell you its broken, I just have a strange feeling about its programing. Seems a little off at times. A little too human,” she reports.
“My fee is 75 bit-marks for the once-over. Another 50 for a fix depending on parts and complexity.”
“That’s high in this neck of the woods. But I’ll pay it, if only to spite my wino,” she snorts. “Now, how’s about some catfish?”
Fletcher leaves Pharaoh’s Place feeling ill, regretting his meal. He also leaves, having hooked up with the town’s most powerful woman. That afternoon he would begin repair on her personal android, Heath6. In the meantime, he shuffled around the quiet streets of town, to take in his new surroundings. Many of the shopkeepers were dwarves. Selling all types of handmade home goods and useless tchotchkes. At least one shop offered psychic readings. Another, Egyptian looking clothing. At a glance, it was difficult to differentiate human from droid. Manners and proper speech gave the bots away every time. Everywhere there was a strange creature lurking. Winged serpents, in distant trees. Furry mammals, walking upright. Gargoyles, patrolling gated properties. Slithering snakes moved across the roads like any cat or dog. This was not itself remarkable. Each area of the planet had its own domestic and wild creatures abound. The disturbing factor for Fletcher, lie in the morbid mood. A population on guard. Eyes, peering around, fearfully.
“Are you in need of crystals my child?” creaks the voice of an old witchy woman.
She crept out from her wooden shop hut at the sight of Fletcher passing.
“Ah, no I’m OK in that department,” he responds with annoyance.
“I think you ought to reconsider. You don’t know this place. You will not be safe around here after nightfall.”
“Look, there ain’t nothing I can’t handle that a crystal is going to fix lady,” Fletcher
barks. He was in no mood to be haggled with. Besides, he was broke.
The old hag points a boney finger at him as he passes her by. “I can see your past.
You’ve killed many men. Creatures too! An old bounty hunter, you are.”
“Keep crowing, old-one. Only the owls will listen,” Fletcher calls back.
Things are off to an interesting start, he thinks. Back at the diner, Sharon turned over Heath6 to Fletcher as promised. The humanoid was five foot eight. Age, programed to be roughly thirty. Black hair, black eyes. A wide, goofy smile on its face.
“Well, here it is! See what you make of him,” Sharon screeches. “He acts smart, then suddenly, goes all stupid. I was considering decommissioning the sucker before you showed up. I run a tight ship in this town. Can’t afford a screwy robot thinking for itself. Not after all my dearly departed went through to get them all back to normal.”
“Normal? What’s normal around here?” questions Fletcher.
“Non-thinking! That’s what. The way the suckers ought to be. It’s a god-forsaken perversion making these things self-aware! It’s against our way.”
“Drake knew that. That’s what he taught. Got rid of the damn quack scientist fella that thought different. People around here seek comfort from the Gods, not silly replicants,” Sharon says with spite in her voice. “We need a predictable servant. A dependable worker, to perform tasks without thinking. Get this one working that way and you’ll have your fee. And more, after. We have a backlog of repairs that need to be handled.”
“Let me get to it then. Where can I set up shop?”
“I have an old barn up the road. The bot knows the way. Don’t ya, computer chip?”
“Heath6 knows the precise location of the Royal Barn and am happy to escort a companion there for performance of necessary repairs and modifications to this system that will please her highness,” says the cheery android.
“I’ll follow your lead then, Heath6,” smirks Fletcher.
And up the road, they went.
“You carry a weapon, Mr. Fletcher, sir?” asks the Heath6.
“I guess that’s my old line of work showing. In better days, I hunted folks down for a living. And please, no more of that ‘Mr.’ business. It gives me the creeps. I ain’t that freakin’ old.”
“Pardon the formality, Fletch,” quips Heath6.
“A droid with a sense of humor? Is that what the boss lady is all bunched up about?”
“Heath6 is a standard operational platform service humanoid. Humor is accidental.”
It’s late afternoon by the time Fletcher and Heath6 arrive at the dilapidated old barn. Health6 opens up the rickety old doorway.
The interior is filled with crates of disassembled robots, broken parts of flying crafts and a stack of Egyptian caskets.
“Ok then, remove your shirt so I can get in there,” says Fletcher.
Setting his pack down, Fletcher digs through and pulls out his equipment – one screwdriver, tweezers, a hand monitor with wires that attach to the motherboard and a Marlboro cigarette.
The only obviously robotic aspect of the Heath6 upper body, is a removable plate along the lower backside. Fletcher flips over an empty crate for use as a working stool.
“May I light your cigarette for you, Fletch,” asks the bot.
Fletcher hands his lighter over with a shrug. A damn strange droid indeed, he thinks. Maybe Sharon is right? This humanoid could be sentient. If so, he ought to pry it for relevant intel. If only, to pass the time.
Hooking up wires to the Heath6 motherboard he asks, “so what the hell is all this ancient Egyptian décor about?”
“The town of Anubisville was founded with the intent to return civilization back to its lost supernatural roots,” replies the robot. “In so doing, Anubisville could retreat from the inhuman progression along technological lines that produced unforeseen threats to the dominance of mankind.”
“Supernatural, huh? So, is it Sharon that’s running this mystical sideshow?”
“Her Lordship Sharon has inherited the seat next to the Gods, vacated by her deceased husband,” answered Heath6. “Her communication with the ascended spirit of Mayor Drake makes her authority unquestionable.”
“Oh, shit-stack. How the hell is she communicating with spirits?”
“Heath6 is not privileged with information that concern Her Lordship’s top secret affairs,” states the robot.
“Oh, cut the shit, synth-head! It’s time you show your true colors. I know you’re sentient. Time to spill your cyber-guts, if you want to stay that way,” demands Fletcher.
“Seems as though you have me in a compromising situation,” replies Heath6, feeling a metallic prodding at his back. “In order to retain my independent sentient consciousness, you shall have your questions answered.”
“As you have already gathered, Anubisville is a town of hierarchy, based around one couple’s interpretation of ancient mythology. Mayor Drake convinced the citizens of his own special communion with the Gods. Only he had access to the necessary rituals that could summon them. After he died, Sharon gained access to all the books of magic,” Heath6 explains. “To strengthen her hold on her new position in local politics, she had Drake mummified and stored in her own private altar room. It is from there that she conjures his spirit and receives power and direction, from beyond.”
“Where’s this alter located?” asks Fletcher.
“Directly beneath the diner. I helped to build it, along with other humanoids. But I was the only sentient one among them.”
“And how is it that you’re the only sentient?”
“My father, Dr. Reich created me in this way. I was his personal companion and friend all the way until he was driven to suicide by that son-of-a-bitch, Drake. There were more like me, but we posed a threat to the Order. I’m the last of my kind, here in Anubisville.”
“Are you aware, that there are millions of your kind spread throughout the galaxy?”
“Sharon speaks of the foreign acceptance of sentient androids as being the evil that plagues the century.”
“Yeah, well, I guess she would know something about evil from the looks of her,” Fletcher says.
“She is very powerful and I fear for the town’s people. They would never suspect that the rash of disappearances is connected to her.”
Fletcher, mildly stunned by this revelation, halts his inspection work.
“Are you telling me that this religious nut, is also a killer?”
“She doesn’t see it that way. To appease the Gods, sacrifices must be made. Blood must be offered at the altar, in their tribute.”
“How the hell did you manage to gather all this information?”
“I can override her power-down commands at night. I eavesdrop on her midnight séances. She’s been at it for the better part of two years.”
“This is just great. How’s a man in my position supposed to make a living with all this going on around him?” Fletcher asks in an exasperated tone.
“Did I forget to mention a large cache of gold and precious jewels are stashed in the altar? If anyone could defeat Sharon’s magic, surely they could lay claim to her treasures,” offers the droid slyly.
“I’ve tried to put my mercenary days behind me.”
The barn falls silent with Fletcher daydreaming.
“How much treasure are we talking about?”
Fletcher returns to the Five Moons Motel after returning Heath6 to the diner.
With Sharon having no way to check his work, he falsely explained how he updated the programming on the bot and disabled the sentient settings. Heath6 is on strict orders not to flub things up by making odd human observations in Sharon’s presence. A.I. machines can be much more spontaneous than there slavish machine counterparts. As Fletcher enters the lobby he looked back at his monetary app with ease at his newly earned currency. Spotting Alice, still behind the front desk, brings forth a wide grin.
“Good evening Mr. Fletcher. Welcome back to Five Moons,” Alice beams.
“Any luck in town?”
“Enough luck to hang around here a little while longer. And I have you to thank for it.”
“Oh, I’m just here to help our guests where I can,” she says.
“No I mean it. I may have just come onto something big and you deserve a drink. I don’t suppose this place has a bar attached?”
Alice is not the type of woman to socialize with guests. She’s also the type of woman who can’t remember the last time she was propositioned by a handsome stranger.
“Sorry, no bar in this old place. But tell you what, we have a lounge area in the back and I know where Papa keeps aged whisky by the barrel.”
Fletcher amazed that his approach worked at all says, “well, I’ll be damned. You’re becoming my guardian angel.”
Alice blushes. “Things get very quiet around 8. Come by then.”
“You got yourself a deal.”
Back in his room, Fletcher experiences a rush of thoughts. The last time he was with a woman – 16 days ago. The last time he drank a bottle of single malt – three days ago. The last time he killed a man – three and a half years back. It was at least that long ago when he was carrying a respectable amount of bit-marks. He considers all this while examining his side sword. It hasn’t had a good sharpening in too long. Still deadly, all the same. He lays back on the squeaky bed and watches the clock tick forward.
He arrives punctually back in the lobby at 8pm. A freshened up Alice is nervously waiting for him.
“Long time no see,” she greets him.
“Here I am. Now what’s this about aged whiskey?”
“Come on back and you’ll see.” She motions him towards the door behind the counter and they disappear out of sight.
“I have an old vid-moniter here in case anyone comes in looking for a room. Usually they don’t,” Alice says.
“I see.” Fletcher sits down at a beat-up old table with thick candles in the middle. Alice retrieves two glass cups to drink with.
“Your Papa won’t mind me drinking his vintage, will he?”
“Not at all. He barley notices it anymore. It’s there to be drank after all.”
“Does he spend much time here?
Alice returns to the table, setting down two super-aged spirits.
“Oh, sure. But he’s mostly in his study, tinkering with his magic.”
“Is that right?” asks a curious Fletcher.
“Yes, Papa Ralph is an old sorcerer from way back,” Alice says with a laugh.
“White magic, of course. He once had a lot of influence in town. But that got interrupted once Mayor Drake got going with his cult.”
“A cult, you say?”
“That’s what Papa has always called it. He clashed with Drake during a town speech. Drake ordered Papa to stay put at the edges of town. Papa Ralph challenged the authenticity of Drake’s teachings. Still does. Papa has old books too. His magic is real, that much I know,” asserts Alice. “He considers himself to be in retirement nowadays. Papa says things changed for the worse once dark magic took a hold.”
“What do you know about ritual sacrifices?” asks Fletcher.
“You mean here, in Anubisville? Only that they would be related to dark magic if that is what’s happening.”
“How about these so-called disappearing acts taking place?”
“You get around quick. That’s been a dirty little secret for awhile now. I don’t go into town anymore because of it. It all creeps me out. Some of the town folk come here asking Papa for protection spells. Everyone’s on edge. It started with dwarves but eventually humans started to disappear in the night as well.”
Fletcher gulps down his glass whole and laid it on the table. He reaches into his pocket for a cigarette.
“My Papa has a quitting spell for those,” offers Alice. She takes up his glass for a refill.
“Ain’t interested in quitting. Look, I have reason to believe its Sharon whose behind all this sacrifice crap,” says a loosened up Fletcher. He lights up his cigarette with a match. “Offering up human blood to that mummy of hers.”
“I don’t doubt it. Not one bit. The woman is filled with greed. She doesn’t care for us regular people. The rumor in town is that a reptile-headed creature is responsible. Just like the reptile-headed cane Mayor Drake used to carry around. It slithers into homes while everyone’s asleep. With a bite, the victim falls into a coma. And there’s no coming back from it,” Alice says. “I ought to leave this place, except Papa wants me to take over Five Moons.”
“You aren’t obligated to do damn thing you don’t want to.” That’s been Fletcher’s motto all his life.
“Sure I am. Papa’s taken care of me for so long. Ever since my parents ran off. They joined some other kind of cult 500 miles away. Papa Ralph wouldn’t let them take me along. He used plenty of magic to protect me.”
“You’re in danger here, is all. I’ve been to better towns. A woman as pretty as you can do fine, away from here,” says a confident Fletcher. The whiskey has arrived in his head.
“Well, thank you for saying so,” the flattered Alice says.
Maybe this was the man Papa Ralph saw in his vision, she asks herself.
The one, powerful enough to take on the town’s darkness?
Several more drinks of the aged barrel whiskey go down. Alice does most of the talking. About her life, before Mayor Drake. Her childhood. Papa Ralph’s funny magic tricks. Playing in the woods with fairies. Simpler times. She hasn’t had someone besides Papa to really talk to for a very long time. She begins to fall for him. No one comes by looking for a room all night. After they’ve both had too much to drink, Alice walks Fletcher back to his room. They have a goodnight kiss. He goes into the room alone to sleep it off. Alice skips away to turn off the street sign and lock the place down.
Anubisville is under the cloak of midnight. All the creatures in the woods and the humans in their houses, have taken to sleep. Except, the nocturnal ones. One in particular is stalking about. Having set out for prey. Moving silently in the shadows. Anxious to capture… to please the Gods.
To strengthen entities, just beneath the veil. The unsuspecting victim never sees it coming. Never hears the crack of the window. The latches, telepathically flipped. Unaware of the slithering presence in the room. Or finally, of the fangs that sink deep into flesh, letting loose, their poison. Perhaps, its better not to know when death comes crawling.
A dancing flame lights the earthen stairwell leading down into the basement lair. The lair that is keeps the tomb of Mayor Drake. Or, mummy Drake, more accurately. Etchings cover all surfaces of the walls. The sacred books lay open. Drake’s sarcophagus lies in the center of the dank dwelling, surrounded by bones. Sharon has arrived, a small body on her back. She lays it out in offering. After lighting of the ritual candles, she produces a bejeweled dagger.
Kneeling before her masters she utters from the great Pyramid Text as follows –
“Even he who is at the limits of the horizon forever and ever.
See, their souls are in the King’s belly,
their spirits are in the King’s possession
as the surplus of his meal out of the gods
Which is cooked for the King out of their bones.
See, their souls are in the King’s possession,
their shades are removed from their owners,
while the King is this one who ever appears and endures,
and the doers of (ill) deeds have no power to destroy
the favorite place of the King among those who live in this land
forever and ever.”
The dagger is plunged into the heart. A tube is used to extract blood into a chalice.
Sharon pushes the lid of the tomb open to spill blood into the mummies mouth. What blood is left, she drinks.
The utterance continues –
“Pharaoh is Lord of offerings, who knots the cord,
and who himself prepares his meal.
Pharaoh is he who eats men and lives on gods,
Lord of porters, who dispatches written messages.”
“It is Pharaoh who eats their magic and gulps down their Khu’s.
Their big ones are for his morning meal,
their middle-sized ones are for his evening meal,
their little ones are for his night meal,
their old men and their old women are for his incense-burning.”
“Lo, their Ba is in Pharaoh’s belly.
Their Khu’s are in Pharaoh’s possession,
as the surplus of his meal out of the gods.
Which is cooked for Pharaoh from their bones.
Lo, their Ba is in Pharaoh’s possession.
Their shadows are removed from their owners,
while Pharaoh is this one who ever rises and lasting lasts.
The doers of ill deeds have no power to destroy,
the chosen seat of Pharaoh,
among the living in this land.
For ever and ever.”
“Oh, my master! I feel you here now! I am here to please you!” shouts a delirious Sharon. Her hand lunges into the freshly dead body. With the aid of the dagger, she extracts the heart. Its blood paints down her forearm, raised up to the sky.
“I hear you old and wise one. Closure must be brought. Resurrection must be had! Blood from the line of a sorcerer will finish it. I will bring her! Her blood will flow unto you, oh great ones!”
Fletcher wakes with a throbbing brain. He checks the time. He has an appointment with Sharon to work on another robot. Nadia has supplied the room with crushed ice just as he asked. He empties some out into a cloth to wrap up and use as an ice bag for his head. How the hell do I always end up in towns with such high strangeness, he asks himself. It’s not all going wrong. There’s Alice. Although, there always is an Alice. But this one feels different. There’s a knock at the door. He gets up furiously, assuming it to be Nadia. He swings the door open only to see a frail old-timer carrying a staff, peering up into his soul. Bald, with a paunch belly and a white beard. His eyes googly. Fletcher realizes then that he’s dressed down to his tighty-whities.
“Shouldn’t you have your sword in hand too, cowboy?” the elder asks.
“Huh…” starts Fletcher.
“It must feel pretty early to you after the dent you left in my whiskey.”
“Nice to meet you Ralph. Heard a lot about you.”
“Of course you have. My Alice is a proud young woman. She’ll make a wonderful owner of this fine establishment one day. It will be an April morning, two years from now, matter of fact,” Ralph says.
“Is that right. Well, I appreciate the drink. And, your granddaughters company. Come to see if she’s here?” asks Fletcher.
“I wouldn’t need to come here to know where she is. I know everything that’s happening in this motel at all times. All that sorcery shit has to amount to something don’t you think?”
“I suppose it does. So, you’re sure about Alice taken the reigns over for you?”
“I’ve miscalculated a time or too. But that vision seems pretty solid, you know what I mean? Anyway, I like to pay all our guests a personal visit. I need an excuse to walk the grounds a little. My freaking back starts aching like a son-of-a-bitch otherwise,” the sorcerer confesses.
“I know exactly what you mean. Well, I plan to be here at least a few more days if work allows,” Fletcher says.
“For some reason, I have the feeling you’ll find your time here particularly useful. But don’t quote me on that,” the old man says as he turns away. “The ice on the bed is starting to melt.”
Fletcher’s sense of strangeness only grows at this moment. Quickly, he fetches his ice bag. Feeling the wetness of it, he tosses it to the floor. What I need is a hot shower, he thinks. Then, a pot of black coffee.
There’s a group of hysteric men, women, children, elves, fairies, dwarves and one Sasquatch engaged in a heated rumor mill just outside the town bakery. Fletcher, on his way to the diner stops to listen in on the commotion.
“The doors and windows were locked I tell you! We’re not dealing with a man at all,” exclaims a distraught woman.
An elf jumps in with, “I can assure you, no one from the woodland is visiting this terror upon you all. This is the work of eternally dark forces.”
“There’s no protection at all,” adds the baker. “Not weapons or spells can ward off this demon.”
At this, the Sasquatch pounds his feet into the ground and beats against his chest, grumbling a roar.
Fletcher decides to approach them. He asks, “what is it that no weapon can kill?”
A little fairy swoops up to answer, fluttering away all around him.
“The one that stalks the night. The thief of souls. A master of chaos and dealer for the underworld,” says the tiny flying female. “The fairies have seen the one who takes the children. We know it to be a reptilian.”
“We lost another innocent one last night,” cries a troll.
“You’re an outsider. You shouldn’t be planning to stay here very long,” warns the baker. “This town is haunted by demons!”
The fairy sweeps past Fletcher once again. “You are a strong man.
The blade you carry is blessed by magic. Maybe you are here to help?”
Fletcher doesn’t like the sudden attention he’s brought to himself.
“I’m just sorry for your loss, is all. This town has to face its own demons.”
This next job and payout is all that matters, he thinks. He has to stay focused. He’s not here to save the world. He has another thought, as he gets closer to Pharaoh’s Place – the thought of a stack of gold and jewels sitting in a dark room, just below the ground.
All the patrons look nervous, huddled in their booths. A sense of dread hangs over any day following a kidnapping. Expect back in the kitchen, where Deke, the cook/dishwasher/magician, is letting loose. His favorite pastime is to levitate dish ware from the sink to the drying racks while he plays solitaire. His second favorite way to pass time is conversing with his pet owl, who communicates only to him, telepathically. Peeking out at the dinning floor, he catches a glimpse of Fletcher having a seat at the counter.
“Hey, you there,” Deke calls out from the kitchen door. “You’re the new robot wrencher, right?”
“That would be me,” Fletcher replies.
“Well, hey listen, I have a message for ya.” He disappears back into the kitchen.
Shelly, the android waitress pours Fletcher’s coffee. “A very fine day today. The temperature is predicted to reach a high of 72. A low of 58,” reports the bot.
Deke reemerges from the kitchen with a slip of paper.
“Alright cowboy, her highness, Sharon is on private business away from the diner today. But she told me to give you this address.”
Fletcher takes the slip and studies it over. “OK, thanks,” he says.
“I got a mean pike in back today, you up for it?” asks the cook.
“I think I’ll pass for now.” Fletcher is too distracted by racing thoughts to eat anything. It’s good Sharon isn’t around. Not after what he heard.
“Let me ask you something chief,” Fletcher starts. “Why are you the only one around here that doesn’t appear spooked by this latest disappearance?”
“Aw, shit. That old serpent-headed freak doesn’t scare me none. I learned how to shield myself from danger from the best of them. It’s the ones who are afraid and helpless, that are at risk. Aside from that, my owl, Wilson, is an excellent night watchman.”
“I see. Have you seen that bot, Heath6 around since yesterday?”
“I think Sharon has that one working with the ground maintenance crew around town,” Deke answers. “Good luck with the repair work. We could use a reliable tech around here. Jeb, the other wrench in town, was at Bats Bar last night and boy did he have one tied-on. He’s been known to destroy droids, working skunked.”
“I’m starting to understand how he got that way,” Fletcher says.
He chugs down his remaining coffee and runs his currency device through the automated billing station.
“Better go see about your next robot then,” says Deke. “I’ll let Miss Sharon know you were here. Come on back when you have an appetite.”
The address provided to Fletcher is located at fishing docks along the coastline. Once there, he is to meet a humanoid named Dedra23. The repair consists of replacing rusted knee joints. The new parts have been delivered. Easy enough, he thinks. He makes his way there by hitching a ride on the back of a teenager’s flyboard. He transfers the kid five bit-marks for the trouble. The droid is waiting inside the shanty attached to dock seven. For some odd reason, Fletcher knocks.
“Welcome to my place of work,” says Dedra23. “Have you been sent to fix my used up knee joints?”
“That would be me. The parts are here?”
“Yes, the package arrived yesterday at exactly 3:33pm. It is located on the counter by the window.”
“Very well then, let’s get to it,” Fletcher says moving toward the package.
He unsheathes his sword to cut the tape.
“Have a seat on that chair. I’ll have you boxing fish again in no time at all.”
Dedra23 sits down as Fletcher pulls the new parts out of the box. At the moment he is set up to get down to work, the shanty door thrusts open. Coming through is a crazed looking man carrying a laser.
“Unhand that robot you sonuvabitch!” screams the maniac.
As if by accident, the laser fires a shot that hits Fletcher in the shoulder. The shot sends Fletcher back onto the floor in agony.
“Oh, fuck nuts!” mumbles the shooter.
Dedra23 processes the situation through her computer brain. “This appears to be an act of violence, prosecutable by local law enforcement,” says the bot.
“Aw, shhhuuuttt up you stinking lug-nut! I didn’t even mean to sshhhooott the bastard,” slurs the man. “I was just gonna scare him is all.”
Fletcher, moaning from the floor, gets sight of his sword left uselessly on the counter.
“Well… plan on finishing what you started?” growls Fletcher.
“You… you stole from me! This is my gawd-damn work you’re doing!”
At this point it becomes clear the stumbling drunkard with a laser is Jeb, the unreliable repairman.
“You stupid damn fool. More liquid courage than brains.”
Fletcher gets to his feet. “Dedra23, get me something to stop this bleeding,” Fletcher says.
As the humanoid crosses to the counter and blocks Jeb’s line of blurred vision, Fletcher springs forward, tackling Jeb to the ground. Taking the laser off him is no challenge.
“Awww, fuckity, fuckball,” cries Jeb as he is pinned down to the floor.
“This rag should act as a suitable bandage until you receive proper medical care,” says the droid flatly.
“Good work sweetheart, now tap into your internal communications system and get me a cop and an ambulance, pronto.”
Fletcher has the laser in one hand, a towel against the wound in the other and both knees on the drunk’s chest.
“I ought to grease your stupid face clean off. Instead, I’ll make it even.”
“Noooooo!!!” The soundless laser fires a beam into Jeb’s arm.
“Stings like a son-of-bitch, don’t it?” asks Fletcher.
Within minutes, the requested help descends on the scene. Both men barely conscious, from blood loss. The humanoid with the bad knees stands by to explain the situation. Jeb will face charges for mishandling a laser, but first,
a bed stop at Heka Hospital, along with Fletcher.
“This is turning into an eventful day I tell you,” remarks the cop to Dedra23, as he finishes taking down his report.
I left my old line of work, precisely to avoid being shot at anymore, Fletcher thinks. He shares the meat wagon to the hospital with the gurgling, wailing Jeb, wishing he had killed him the whole way.
“I came as soon as I heard the news,” says Alice. She did in fact rush to Fletcher’s bedside as word of the shooting spread through the edgy town.
Her fast growing feelings for the drifter, coming on strong.
“Just a scratch is all. I’ve had it worse.”
“I just can’t believe he would stoop this low to go waving around a laser like that.”
“This town keeps getting weirder and weirder every minute,” Fletcher says.
“Does that mean me too?” asks Alice.
“No, matter of fact, you are the only thing not weird about the whole place.”
Fletcher searches for more words he can offer her but comes up blank. He hates that about himself. Alice reaches out to hold his hand.
“Don’t you worry, I’ll be outta here in no time,” he assures her.
Alice spends the afternoon with him but has to get back to the Motel. (Ralph gets cranky when he’s left at the front desk for too long.) She makes him promise to take it easy and rest at the motel, when he is released. If it weren’t for her, he would cut his losses and leave town as soon as possible. He knows that eventually, he will leave. It’s the nature of the life he leads. He can’t change that for anyone.
Sharon refuses to wait for time to pass before taking her next victim to the altar. Knowing she is so close to completing her work fills her with greedy impatience. One more sacrifice is all that separates her from untold amounts of power from beyond. She will act, and she will be swift. The town will soon learn of her true position amongst the Gods. Why delay any longer, she asks herself. And so her plan is set in motion. Come nightfall, she will pay her visit to the Five Moons Motel. She knows she will take her victim, like all the rest. What she doesn’t know is someone has been tracking her moves from the shadows. That someone knows what she intends to do next. And that someone finally has the right kind of help to stop her. Heath6 arrives in Fletcher’s hospital room with a sense of urgency. It’s past dusk and they don’t have much time to spare.
“This is the first time any android has come to check on my health,” Fletcher ironically observes.
“It is of the utmost importance that I speak to you.” If a robot could sound worried, this one did. “The evil danger in town will reach a tipping point this very night.”
“Oh boy, now what? I can’t take much more of the town’s stinkin’ evil.”
“I have knowledge of where and who Sharon will strike against next. If she is successful, Mayor Drake will be resurrected from his tomb. His return will be a subservient one to his wife, as she is the one how has pleased the Gods of death. Their combined power will usher in a new rule of outright slavery for the population,” explains Heath6.
“Shit. Who is the one she is going after?”
“The young woman who manages the Five Moons Motel. The one who carries the bloodline of a true sorcerer. Powerful blood that energizes the dead.”
“That’s Alice!” shouts Fletcher, leaping forward from his bed. This tears at his wound, which he reaches to grab. “I have to get out of here. Now.”
“Yes, I only hope your condition does not limit you.” More human-like worry from the robot.
“You let me worry about my condition. Use that super-brain of yours and think of a way I can walk out of here.”
“I already have that covered. My robotic brain, and all. I’m here on direct orders from Mayor Sharon. You are to be released into my custody at once. I even have phony digital forms to prove it.”
“I like you robot. You’re earning your keep. Now, help me get my pants on.”
The heroic pair are well behind schedule in their rescue efforts by the time they are out of the hospital. The shape-shifted Sharon is just now arriving at the motel. She has forgone waiting for the moment of slumber to make her attack.
Alice, in complete shock, is defenseless against the strength of the reptilian beast. Her cries for help, intuited by Ralph, are too late. Sharon has sunk her venom into her veins, sending her into slumber. Ralph arrives at the scene only moments too late. Sharon is sloppy in her haste, doling out only a small dose of her poison. Alice will revive within a few hours time. If, her heart is still beating at that point.
“Curse you Gods! Not my Alice!” the old wizard calls out.
Ralph is summoning all his unearthly powers to visualize the trail on which the kidnapper left on, when Fletcher and Heath6 rush into the lobby.
“Where is Alice?” demands Fletcher.
“Taken, right from under my own nose! Like me, you’ve arrived too late,” says a remorseful Ralph.
Heath6 is happy to interject. “We can still save her. I know where the secret lair is located. Underground beneath Pharaoh’s Place.”
“We’ll need your help, wizard,” says Fletcher. “As you can see, I’m wounded. I’ll take the lead, just be there to back me up.”
“You’re damn straight I’ll be there. That evil bitch has my granddaughter!”
Shape-shifting back into her human form, Sharon carries Alice’s body down the steps into the altar room. All of her conniving, deception and murder, comes down to this moment. She can hardly contain herself. Immediately, she prepares the sacrificial ritual. The spell books lay open. Candles are lit. The unholy dagger produced.
Rather than go in for the kill herself, Sharon plans to transfer enough of the girl’s blood to produce the resurrection. The mummified Drake will re-enter with the gift of taking the innocent girls life, with his own hands. With the chalice ready, the dagger slices deep into Alice’s arm, letting loose her innocent blood. The cup is quickly filled.
“Oh, Gods in the dark paradise, hear me now!” bellows Sharon.
“I have the blood of the sorcerers line here for you. I have done as you commanded!”
She approaches the open casket with the cup held high. Taking a drink of it herself, she feds it next, to her dead husband.
“Rise, rise my lover. Come back to me to so I may rule this world! You will be my slave now.
For I have appeased the God’s dark wishes. And it will be I who command! So, rise now from your grave!”
The body of the mummy shivers and shakes. Life returns to his limbs. Very slowly, the mummy sits up from his death dream.
“Yes! Oh, yes. The time has come. I feel your power now flow into me!” exclaims the ecstatic Sharon. The room lights up with a charge of static electricity that surges through her body.
Heath6, being a robot that experiences no fatigue, is first to arrive at the diner. Knowing the entrance is bolted shut; the sentient machine smashes through the pane glass to gain entry. Once inside, the android grabs a large steak knife from the kitchen and heads for the stairs. At the moment Heath6 enters the altar room, the mummy has Alice lifted off the ground by her throat. With pinpoint accuracy, Heath6 throws the knife into the mummies back, causing him to drop her.
“You veil little shit!” screams Sharon. “How dare you betray me! I should have fried your processor when I had the chance.”
“You are both responsible for the death of my father and I will not let you enslave this town,” Heath6 says.
Sharon erupts in maniacal laughter. “Only a robot would be so stupid to disrupt a ritual of this magnitude.”
The mummy struggles to dislodge the knife from his back. Sharon goes to him and removes it herself.
“I want the pleasure of cutting your computer head off myself!” says Sharon as she lunges toward the android. Heath6 defends against the attacking arm with the speed of a machine. As they struggle for position, Sharon shape-shifts into her reptilian form.
“Help me you fool!” Sharon hisses at the mummy.
Lumbering over into the fray, the mummy attempts to strangle Heath6.
“You idiot! It’s a robot. It doesn’t breath for Ra’s sake!”
“That bot is more human than you will ever be, you evil snake!” says Ralph as he and Fletcher descend into the lair. The wizard uses a hand propulsion strike to blast the mummy crashing back own casket. This forces Sharon to use Heath6 as a diversion by shoving him toward Ralph and Fletcher. With her heightened powers, Sharon telepathically throws a large vase against Fletcher’s head, knocking him down into a pile of dead bodies. For the moment, she is free to battle with the formidable old wizard. Ralph uses his magic staff to emit a forceful energy wave against her while she defends with her own energy blasts. The mummified Drake regains his bearings, resuming his attack on Alice.
Heath6 sees this and grabs a nearby torch off the wall and leaping at the mummy, igniting it with the flame. This does little to stop the mummy, who is still able to grab Alice. The burning heat from the mummy shocks her back to consciousness. Awakening, she screams in fear. The android without a weapon, uses his body as a shield, pushing the mummy away. Wrestling the mummy to the floor, the android too, catches fire.
“You bastards will all pay for meddling in the affairs of the Gods! I will summon them all to my aid to destroy you!” cackles Sharon. A dimensional portal begins to open up in the center of the room. The wizard must overcome her fast, to keep a host of demonic entities from crossing over. The corpses of the sacrificed towns people are reanimating around Fletcher, who is shaking off the cobwebs from his recent head-shot.
With boney claws clenching all over him, Fletcher springs up, with his one good arm, slashes off zombie arms, left and right with his sword. A force from within the portal takes a hold of Alice’s leg and tries to drag her in.
“Fletcher, Alice, go to Alice!” cries the wizard.
Fletcher crosses behind the mystical battle between Ralph and Sharon, grabbing a hold of Alice’s arm. The evil forces from beyond are as strong as anything the ex-mercenary has ever felt. Sharon’s powers too are proving overwhelming for Ralph to hold back much longer. Without much hope of pulling Alice out of the grips of the netherworld, Fletcher, with all the speed he can muster, releases Alice, picks up his sword and lunges at Sharon, piercing her through the heart.
“Noooo!!!!!” the evil serpent goddess screams.
Freed up from his entanglement, Ralph fires his cosmic blasts into the portal. Fletcher pulls back the sword over his head and thrusts it down onto Sharon’s reptilian throat, decapitating her. The entities, damaged by the wizard’s forces, unleash Alice. Summoning a powerful white energy orb, Ralph fires it into the portal, creating an inter-dimensional explosion shutting it closed. The explosive energy causes a massive blow-back, hitting the wizard, dead-on. Alice rushes to her grandfather’s side. “Papa! Oh my Papa, no!” she cries out. “This can’t be happening!”
The old sorcerer is hit bad and he knows it. “It is my time child,” Ralph says. “I let this evil go on too long in this town. I can go on now, knowing they can no longer get to you.”
Fletcher rushes with a tapestry rug to put out the fire that has consumed Heath6 and the mummy. From out of a cloud of smoke, the skeletal hardware of the humanoid remains in tact.
“You all right Heath6?” asks Fletcher.
“My software system has suffered heat damage but I’m still operational,” the droid responds.
“The motel belongs to you now, dear. Take good care of it,” says the dying wizard. “Everything you’ll need to carry on is located in the study. Don’t worry about me. I can see where I’m headed and it’s ok.” The assurance doesn’t stop the granddaughter’s sobbing.
Fletcher goes to her. After some time grieving, the three survivors carry the fallen wizard out of the evil pit. Heath6 is the only one with the strength to create a bonfire to send off Ralph’s body in. The wizard had made his cremation intentions clear to Alice. It’s her that delivers the shocking news to the people of Anubisville the next morning.
“Burn the cursed diner to the ground!” yells an angry dwarf. Cheers of agreement burst out among the crowd. “Hooray for a return to peace and the death of evil!”
A swarm of fairies gather around Alice to express their condolences.
“Your papa Ralph gave himself so that all creatures could go on and live. You can be proud,” says a troll. “We will honor his spirit here forever.” It will be a long time yet for Alice to feel anything but sadness. But she knows deep down the troll speaks the truth. The town is finally free from a long reign of madness and death. A call for Fletcher, the demon-slayer, to take the mantle of Mayorship is made. “I take governance over no one. You people have seen what a ruler can do to you. Now you have a chance to learn about real freedom. Don’t waste it,” says the eternal drifter.
The biggest celebration in the town’s history breaks out. There will be plenty of time to decide a new order, tomorrow. After many rounds of ale are bought for the town’s new hero, Fletcher slips away, to head back to the Five Moons Motel. Back to pack up his belongings and settle his debt.
“What of the treasure?” Heath6 asks.
“It rightfully belongs to the people here. Get it to Alice. She’ll know the right way to use it,” says a ragged Fletcher. “Besides, I already pocketed a few handfuls of rubies while we were down there.”
“Good luck in your travels Fletcher. May we meet again someday,” says Heath6.
“Yeah, maybe we will. In the meantime, keep an eye on Alice for me. And since you’ll be the only sober ones tonight, you and the other droids keep the dwarves from burning the whole city down.”
Standing back in the lobby of the Five Moons Motel, Fletcher is once again looking at the beautiful woman at the front desk.
“So, is this goodbye?” she asks with sadness in her voice.
“Well, sort of. I mean, at least until I pass through again,” Fletcher answers.
A long pause of silence transpires between them.
“To everyone else, this is the happiest day on earth. To me it feels like the saddest,” Alice reflects.
“It will pass. And on that day you will have a freedom here that you’ve never known. You can live the life you want to live.”
“And what about you? Where will you be on that day?”
“Out on the road somewhere, where I belong. Just trying to get by.
I’ve been moving for too long to try and stop now.”
He can sense how troubling that is to her innocent mind.
“But I will be thinking of you and everything that’s happened here,” he offers.
“Well, try and send me a message now and then,” Alice requests.
“Just to let me know you’re OK.”
“That much I can do.”
Alice comes out from behind the front desk. She looks at her lonely warrior one last time and embraces him with a final kiss. “If you ever get tired out there and need a room to stay. You’ll always have one here,” she says with tears forming in her eyes. The hardened robot repairman takes up his pack and heads out the door.
Back out onto the road that leads out of Anubisville.