The Preserved (Chapter 2)
He was smart. Exceptionally so. He was also: not human.
Some called it evil, he knew. It was a human concept and they had no idea. After all, how could anyone hate everyone and everything, except music. Why would anyone want to kill every single person on earth? Destroy every building, every city, lay waste to it all. If only for a moment of purity. Of oneness with earth and her reverent beauty. A perfect clarity of consciousness. Make the whole of it a park again. Like it was before the humans came.
Was that such an evil idea? Ted Katz didn’t think so. Humans were a scourge on this beautiful planet. Just like they would be a scourge on any other planet. That’s why he’d come. It was his duty to gather information for the Mass. He was proud to do it. And he knew it would result in the eradication of a species.
If successful, it would be Ted’s seventh eradication event. Enough to earn him a place in Paradise. Only this Paradise was real. An entire series of worlds around a perfectly controlled star in the most secure galaxy of the six. He would live on number 38, the water planet. He liked water planets. And he would have a dozen mates and live on one of the three great floating mountains. Never again would he post to the edge of known space to earn his name – he’d already have it!
The Mass had been firmly in control of the six galaxies for the last 10,000 cycles. Longer than any one civilization before them. Not because the Mass had conquered them, not all of them anyway, but because the Mass had outlived them. And because they had safely lived beyond the galaxies for so long that most civilizations had ignored them. Why make friends with those who attacked you at every turn, retreated into the depths of the universe, when chased? Why find those who hide? It became unfeasible to expend precious resources to continue the chase as the Mass waited. They were good at that. Waiting.
The Mass had won by attrition over thousands of years. Now they were expanding. Slowly remaking worlds, as they saw fit. Moving stars and systems to accommodate the Mass, if more resources were requested. But as always, with an eye to the beauty of the universe in its natural and organized state.
The Mass did not exist to gobble up stars and churn out products for their kind. The Mass wanted a pristine and balanced universe. Technology was only a means to that end. If it attempted to arise – if machine intelligence awakened – the Mass destroyed it and kept the discoveries. And the dominant species of any planet or system or even whole galaxies, had to go, that the Mass could maintain the balance of nature. Even if it was their definition of nature. A nature that was not ruled by thinking machines, but by brute biology – as has always been the way.
In the meantime, Ted Katz, the non-human, deserved a little fun. A little enjoyment out here at the edge of this remote galaxy. Entertainment, until they – the Mass -- arrived with the system ships to move the Solar System. To re-balance nature as it should be. What else could one do?
These things – humans -- however necessary to this Solar System, bored him. Irked him, beyond measure. Only his dogs made him happy here. His dogs. Two well trained Doberman Pinschers, with some minor augments, of course. Ted wasn’t above cheating, if the mission could be shortened. He deserved his respect.
Even now the two dogs basked in the late afternoon sun on the veranda, their adjusted brains sensitive to his every mood. What a magnificent animal, Ted thought. Maybe he could modify them to take over this planet? Ted laughed inwardly.
Had he wanted, Ted Katz could have given his dogs full intelligence. Made Sasha and Tabitha as smart as your average human. But that often led to other problems – long range thinking for one. And Ted wanted complete obedience. Worship, if not loyalty. Not too much thinking, however.
Once he’d augmented a bear, to guard his estate, before the walls were built. What a mess it had become when the bear had decided to visit a tavern. He had been depressed that his “wife” bear was stupid. It was true. Ted had not augmented the mate.
The locals shot the bear dead but learned he could talk in the process. It was a mess. Ted had to slowly weed out the witnesses over several years. That’s what his helpers were good for. Weeding. That was before the internet, however.
Shasha lifted her head. A car was approaching, its modified engine rumbling as it slowed to a stop at the gate.
Ted’s cell phone rang. Such a rudimentary tool. He hated it, like he hated everything else about humans. But rules were rules. The idea was, when posted to unconquered planet, one that has not yet been expunged of its highest order species – to go as “native” as possible. It attracted less attention. Do your research and report. Survive from the fat of the land, as these humans put it.
Ted had been on earth since 1816 and he was still waiting for his notification from the Mass. He thought he had enough to convince them now. To move up the time-line. Get the mover ships in orbit tomorrow. Over a hundred earth years was long enough. And if they didn’t hurry, the planet might be ruined by nuclear war. Or a viral machine intelligence.
“Yes?” He’d almost forgotten about the car at the gate.
A man was waving at the camera. Ted could see him on his cell phone, in his car. A custom design. Ted’s design. Made to look as dull as possible. With its hidden power source. It never required fuel. Never needed servicing. And the idiot that drove his car knew nothing about engines, much less advanced propulsion systems, invented by long dead thinking machines.
“Mr. Katz, it’s Martin. I have your delivery.” The man’s face shone briefly as he leaned forward in the driver’s seat. His all too human face staring at the camera. A square jaw, long black hair, bald on top. No head point. A short round skull, with a small brain, Ted thought.
On his finger, Martin was wearing the silver ring with its onyx eye. ‘His’ controlled human worker, Ted mused. Martin had no idea that the ring was his “real” brain. Just as Sasha’s and Tabitha’s “real” brains were in their collars. Without them, without their augments, they would revert to their previous selves and it would kill them in the process. Organic brains tended to atrophy when not used properly.
Martin had been a loyal assistant for almost a decade, but he was getting too old. Age 30 for humans was about as long as Ted allowed, before he replaced them. The only reason Martin was still alive, was because of his loyalty and punctuality. He was also part of the entertainment.
Martin loved to torture humans – his own kind. He was a criminal – murderer and a rapist -- when Ted augmented him. Fresh out of prison and nearly dead from a drug overdose. Ted had his helpers nurse him back to health. Then he placed Martin on the payroll and supplied him with “blue.”
“Blue” was the street name for the drug Ted had devised on this planet. Using available plant species, Ted had engineered a new type of hybrid from opium seeds, cocaine plants, marijuana and two types of mushrooms. It required four decades of research and best of all, it was highly addictive. Ted never named the flower he’d created, but its unusual petals and spiraling leaves were easily identifiable.
Ted opened the gates and Martin drove into the circle below the estate mansion. He watched Martin enter the tunnel and park under the covered atrium, next to the Sun Fountain – yet another bit of artwork of his own design. It had been pumping water for over 95 years, with no repairs or maintenance, using 1901 technology. It should function for another 25 years, Ted estimated. Long enough for the Mass to respond.
Martin exited the vehicle, walked to the trunk. Opened it. A woman dressed like a waitress was tied up inside. Martin reached in and pulled the rag from her mouth. She was a feisty one. Shook her head as the long rag came away. He wished he could have done things to her, but Ted had been specific. He was not to inseminate this one, just deliver -- intact.
Sometimes, Ted did allow Martin to play. To hurt them badly, before delivery. Even kill them. But Martin could wait. He was very patient, usually.
Martin knew the routine. He’d seen the alien in action. How he took the women he brought him. It was at once, sublime and vicious. Sex then consumption. Wild, Martin thought. Absolutely cannibal kinky. How he could do the same, if he had three huge razor-sharp organs like that, Martin thought. A jaw that could unhinge, like Ted’s. But Martin was no cannibal. His skin crawled when he tried human steak once before.
A scream. “Asshole!” the waitress yelled when she realized the gag was out. Then she tried to bite him when he reached in to pull her from the trunk.
Martin drew back. He was going to teach this bitch a lesson.
“No!” Ted hissed from the veranda when he saw Martin start to raise his hand. Ted looked down, his dogs at his side, both as unconcerned as he was. The waitress was squirming, kicking every time Martin reached in.
Interesting, Ted thought. It had been a long while since he’d had this much fun. He felt the old chemical surge. The lower organs began to stir and prepare. But there would be time for that later.
“I’m going to kick your ass, Shorty,” the woman yelled. She kicked his hand away again.
Ted’s dogs read his thoughts and dashed away. In a moment Sasha and Tabitha were with Martin. Sasha looked at the waitress, glanced back at Ted, who was standing above, then turned and bit the waitress once, as Ted had instructed.
The waitress screamed, then froze. “That dog just bit me!” the woman shouted. "It just bit my leg!"
“If I were you, I would shut up now,” Martin said. He reached in, pulled her bodily from the trunk and dropped her on solid marble, before she could react. He removed her ropes and plastic, then jerked her roughly to her feet. She wobbled. but caught herself. She had a nice shape, Martin noticed.
The waitress watched the dogs intently. They were circling, mouths open, teeth glistening. The big one was more anxious. It kept looking up at a high stone wall, but there was nothing there that Margie could see.
After he put away the restraints, Martin nodded to the dogs and they took up positions on either side of her. She was standing still, hands clenched to her chest.
“What now?” she asked.
“Follow them,” Martin said.
“What?” the woman asked, her hair now falling into her eyes.
Martin saw that she was quite young and knew that Ted liked them that way. He felt a twinge of jealously again.
“The dogs, they will escort you,” he said.
“Seriously?” she asked. “How about I escort your balls with my –”
Martin lunged at her, but Sasha growled. Martin backed away. Fine, he thought. Let your master deal with her.
Sasha took a few steps forward and turned her long snout. Was she pointing the way?
“And don’t piss them off, unless you want them to bite you again,” Martin laughed, then he slammed the trunk. In a moment, he had driven away, leaving her there with two guard dogs.
Martin knew that he would pick up his “blue” at the gate on his way out. Life would be a party, for another week. He hoped Ted would send him on another trip to Miami. There were so many young girls there.
Margie Gallagher didn’t flinch as the big ugly dog growled again. It was doing circles now, obviously wanting her to follow.
“How you guys doing?” Margie said. “Are you good dogs or bad dogs?” She stood her ground.
The other one, almost as big as this one, was behind her. It nudged her forward with its snout.
“Hey! That’s my butt, keep your nose –”
The smaller one suddenly nipped her buttocks. Margie jumped away, screamed, and began to follow the big one, keeping an eye on the one behind. She was scared out of her mind, but she wasn’t about to show it.
“Okay, you’re bad dogs,” she said. “Very bad dogs,” she scolded. The one behind seemed embarrassed? It hung its head. Then both of them growled, so she shut up, followed.
Just yesterday Margie was working at the Sentinels of the Sea, in Miami Beach. They were new, a remodeled affair, and she needed work. Oddly, she was hired on the spot and her first day was very busy, but short lived.
Margie couldn’t believe the dead guy. Just after she’d started serving breakfast. Some detective walked in, went right to the elevators and disappeared. He looked a bit old. Had a paunch. He was deep in thought, but very watchful. Scanning everything, casually. She liked him immediately. He had an easy smile.
The night manager had gone nuts, however. Started yelling at everyone – even the residents. A strange affair. Nobody yelled back. It was like they were all afraid of him.
Margie understood that something was different about this place. It might take time to get to know these people, if she lasted the day.
The big dog started to climb a set of wide marble stairs, its claws clacking. The steps seemed to lead to a large patio above, from one side. There was an identical curved staircase on the opposite side. Huge plants she had never seen before, artistically arranged along the upper walls. Blue flowers. Vine-like stems. Stringy, spiral shaped leaves. Where was she? At some pop star’s home. She could hear a mixture of music. Rock, classical, country.
Margie had learned Corwin’s name a little while later, when her new supervisor asked her to go and see him. Employment papers Mrs. Dupree had said. Margie left the restaurant and headed for the main office. She passed several guys wearing read jackets and green ties and wondered who they were. Mrs. Dupree had mentioned the “helpers.” Maybe these were the guys.
Corwin sat behind his desk in his office. His face was glued to his monitor, but she could not see what he was doing. Corwin waved her in. What followed was even stranger than his most recent outburst.
Corwin discussed the detective who had come. She learned that she was not to say anything. She had no problem with that. Margie didn’t know anything anyway and she needed an income, yesterday. She had a son to support. And that was that. She was back to work in the restaurant in five minutes. Weird, she thought.
Who were these people? Why all the hush-hush? Margie wondered more and more. The entire situation was very distracting.
A short while later, Corwin asked her to eavesdrop on the detective in question. Percy was his name. Maybe call him by his first name: Able. He had taken up residence in the restaurant and Corwin wanted him gone. Watch him, but don’t be too friendly, he said. Hint that he can leave. Make excuses. Ask about his partner upstairs. Upstairs? Never mind that part, Corwin implied. Just make him uncomfortable.
Give him bad service? But Margie didn’t quite follow Corwin’s instructions. Instead, she became even more curious.
Now the big dog turned the corner. Margie followed. Tried to keep her composure, but inside she was losing it. Focus, she told herself. Stay alive.
The other dog was close behind. In front of her now, was a large veranda. It was ornate, but kind of unusual, Margie thought. She couldn’t place the design. Behind the fancy veranda, was the mansion, set back several hundred feet, through a series of gardens – all full of blue flowering plants. Margie looked for landmarks, addresses, anything. There was nothing but that freaky mansion, tinted in blue, carvings of serpents on each side of the front door. Another silver fountain, like the one where she had been unceremoniously dumped on the ground by that short asshole. She kept walking, staying between the two dogs.
The detective was nice, she remembered. Talkative, but nice. Margie had a difficult time trying to spy on him in the restaurant as Corwin had asked and felt bad when he caught her peeking at his computer, over his shoulder. He didn't like that and Margie felt his betrayal. He settled his bill, soon after and asked for privacy at his table.
No more smiles after that. Just a terse curl of the lips. Margie had wanted to apologize and even hinted that she had been told to bother him. Detective Percy's reaction was unreadable.
That’s when Margie began to reconsider her new job altogether. You don’t spy on cops, she thought. And you don’t yell at people for no reason – unless you’re what? Guilty?
Margie decided that Corwin was a dirt-bag. She wanted no part of this place, but she wanted to finish out the day. Try to anyway.
The big dog led her to a table now. The other one edged closer, but Margie grabbed the first chair, an overstuffed cushioned one, with embroidered patterns of green ocean waves and what looked like huge red islands. No more ass bites, she thought. Both dogs then sat next to the table, watching her. Panting in the mild heat.
On the silver-metallic table in front of her was a pitcher of steaming blue liquid and two glasses. Each glass had blue flower petals inside and spiraling leaves hanging over. Decorative. Tea? Where had she seen such a tea before?
I guess I’m supposed wait. Another thought then crossed her mind. I wonder if I can make that wall, climb up and over it – and run! As if to answer her, the smaller of the two dogs growled. She could swear they were reading her mind -- or maybe her hormones?
“Do you guys read minds?” she asked the two dogs.
When Detective Percy had asked after the Asian waitress, Margie had had enough of her new job. She’d thought about it, watched the detective in the lobby making phone calls, and saw how he was getting the run-around. Curiosity finally won out.
On her next trip to the kitchen, instead of taking the plate of food from the serving line, she actually went into the back. Pushed through the doors marked “No Admittance.” She found a short, unlit corridor. At the end, another smaller door. Margie walked the short corridor and opened the second door.
There was no kitchen. Not one she recognized anyway. It was a small room, full of old looking machines. Not old in the sense of what they were, computers and monitors and was that some sort of three-dimensional printer? But old in the sense of time. These things had to have been made at the turn of the century, but how was that possible? Metallic boxes with no markings at all. Wooden keyboards? With strange alphabets. And was that a mouse? If so, why was it shaped like a ball.
She touched the silver ball. The monitor came to life, showing an array of symbols. None she recognized, except for the Sentinels of the Sea logo -- that was in English -- just beneath a series of complex letters? The silver ball rolled back to its original position, next to the keyboard.
Margie pushed it again, harder this time. It rolled to the edge of table and kept going. Three inches off the desk, floating in space, it reversed course then and came back to its original position.
Crap, Margie thought. She started to back out when she heard the noise. Someone was moving in the next room. There was no door, just a walkway. Margie edged forward to look. She peered around the corner.
There was a single man, Margie saw. He was tall and thin. And he wore no pants – or underpants – just a shirt and a baker’s hat. From the serving line, in front, Margie had seen him all day. A quiet thin guy in a white shirt, handing out the food. He hadn’t said much.
Now, from here, she thought she was witnessing some pervert. He hadn’t yet noticed her, but he wasn’t normal. That part was unsettling. He had no sex organs. That was the most unsettling part. Nothing. Just a coppery pink skin and a small tail. A tail? No butt cheeks. His feet were mere nubs, with three gray toenails. Was he deformed? She pulled out her cell phone. Am I looking at an alien? She thought about the weird machines in the other room.
As he worked, the thin guy – was he a guy? -- reached into a large white box and removed steaming meals. There were no ovens, stoves, or refrigerators. No stacks of boxes, glasses or silverware. He was simply turning around and pulling out completely cooked meals, on trays, ready to eat. Then placing them on the serving line, for her.
After a few moments of recording him, he saw her.
“Hello?” Margie said. “How are you? Better yet, what are you?” She smiled.
The cook started to hiss. Then his hat fell off. Under it, was no ordinary head. It was pointed and this guy – this thing – was pissed.
Margie ran. Scrambled backwards, bumping into the desk with the odd looking computer. The silver ball rolled, coming her way and on impulse, she grabbed it. It resisted, but then came away. She shoved it into her apron pocket on the way out the front door.
As Margie passed Mrs. Dupree, she hollered, "“I quit" and kept going. All the way to the parking lot. Jumped in her car. Laid rubber and sped down Ocean Avenue, hoping a cop would stop her. But none did.
Two hours later, the Sentinels of the Sea was all over the news. Gun fights. Dead cops. Then the fire. She had made several phone calls to the police, but they would not put her through to the detective – Percy – at the Sentinels of the Sea. She tried to warn them. Something was not right there. Now she feared that she had waited too long to report it.
Margie kept taking the silver ball out to look at it. Even tried it with her laptop computer and to her surprise, it worked! And it seemed to want to stay with the laptop, wherever she moved it. Floating just a few inches in front. Amazing, she thought.
Then Margie started to think. What if the owners of this high tech stuff -- this ball -- wanted it back? What if that weird, half-naked, deformed cook, saw her take it? Were these weirdos aliens? She began to shiver, but the room was warm.
What if they could track this ball? Crap, she thought. Margie went to her pantry. Pulled out her metal thermos, changed her mind. Grabbed the box of aluminum foil. Wrapped the ball in foil, then stuffed it in the thermos.
Walking around her apartment, she looked for a place to hid the thermos. Wait, if they came, they would search her apartment. Think paranoid, think outside of the box. Outside!
Margie left her apartment and took a short walk. At the corner of her street, she found what she was looking for. She hid it there. It was as good a place as any. As long as nobody looked. Seriously though, did anyone check under their landscaping bricks. She looked around, the neighborhood was quiet.
Margie was still in her waitress dress watching the bad news and thinking about the silver mouse ball, when someone knocked on her door. The police, she thought. About time. She opened the door to find a short guy with long hair. He was no cop.
He shoved her back and burst into her apartment, and pointed an odd-looking box at her. Her last thoughts, before she awoke in the trunk of the car hours later, bound and gagged, were: who was going to pick up Jimmy, her two-year old son, at daycare?
A man was coming down the stairs from the mansion now. He was dressed in blue. A long robe and sandals. He was wearing a round hat, like a cowboy hat, only it was more like a baker’s cap. That’s curious, she thought. It sagged at the top, but at the same time, it was pointed. Was he obese? It was hard to tell. What was easy to tell was that he was shaped wrong. Out of proportion. He had a short upper body, it seemed, and long legs. His shoulders were too broad. Very similar to the deformed – or alien? – cook back at the restaurant.
The man was in no hurry. One of the dogs, the larger one, came to greet him. He made a gesture and both dogs then ran off.
Margie watched the man come and tried to suck in her fear. She wondered what was going on. Why had she been kidnapped? What was with the blue tea, still steaming on the table in front of her.
“Good afternoon, Margie Gallagher,” the man said in a soft, almost pleasant tone. His diction was perfect. As if every syllable was important, almost musical. He sat in the ornate chair – a throne – opposite. Adjusted his silky robes. His feet were deeply tanned, almost a copper color.
Margie looked again for the dogs. Wondered what this strange man was hiding under his robe. She didn’t speak.
“I trust your trip wasn’t too – stressful?”
She looked at his face. He had a flat look. A round face, with boxy cheek bones and blond hair. Wrinkles stretched the length of his chin, as if he had stretched his skin over a huge skull. Was that make-up? Foundation over reddish skin? It was difficult to tell.
“You had me brought here?” Margie asked.
“Yes,” he said.
“You worked at one of my companies – the Sentinels of the Sea.”
“I quit, yesterday – I think. Hey, does your brother work there?”
“Indeed, you did quit,” he said in that almost airy voice.
“So?” Margie was trying to control her temper now. Where was this going? Think about Jimmy. She knew that by now, her stepfather -- whoever he was -- would be moving heaven and earth to find her…but if he thought she died in the fire? Margie wanted to trust her grandmother's words. Did she really have a stepfather at all?
“You went into one of my restricted areas,” the strange man-thing said. His puffy hat bobbed in the breeze.
“Who are you? And I didn’t see any signs,” Margie replied.
“I apologize, Ms. Gallagher. My human name is Ted Katz.” He smiled, but his skin was fighting the bones beneath. “I am the owner of the Sentinels and quite a few other resorts in the Americas, Asia and in other places.”
He wasn’t human? He couldn’t be. Not with that…face.
“What are you?” Margie asked, bluntly.
He realized his mistake, too late. What did it matter now? Ted considered his next words carefully.
“My species is not important. Not to you.” He paused. “No, Ms. Gallagher, what is most important is that you understand the importance of the situation.”
“How?” Margie asked.
“You recorded our cook, didn’t you?”
Margie remained quiet.
“You then posted a video of that man –”
“He was not a man,” Margie interrupted.
Ted hissed at her. Like a roaring snake, if that was possible. His phlegm spewed across the table, some of it striking the pitcher of tea, where it began to boil.
“You recorded, yes?” He regained his composure.
“Yes,” Margie said. “It’s gone viral, hasn’t it?” Her suspicions were confirmed. This guy – Ted – was another one. Didn't he know about the mouse ball? She didn't think so.
He didn’t respond. Instead the big alien or man -- whatever he was -- poured himself some of blue steaming tea and consumed it in one gulp. His facial bones seemed to protrude as he drank and his neck undulated, like a snake's, when it swallowed a mouse.
Ted had been afraid that this would happen. Already, he had employed some of his technology to erase most of Detective Able Percy’s investigative records. He had even incinerated the Sentinels of the Sea. Made it appear as if the detective himself went crazy and shot up the place. Ted had hired lawyers to hound the detective, if he was still alive. Right about now, his helpers should be taking care of him, if he was.
But in the process, in his haste to secure his secrecy, Ted inadvertently made too many humans curious. That was a big problem. One that could get out of control, if he didn’t eliminate the information and some witnesses. And that, Ted was very good at. Of course, his technology helped. And his brain-dead helpers. Maybe he should say, brainless. Well, except for their augments -- which he controlled.
The only problem now, was the video this woman had posted online. To erase all of those would most certainly call attention to him and his helpers. That must be avoided, until the Mass arrived. After that, it would not matter.
Maybe it was time to finish the job. Remove the last known witnesses. Margie Gallagher and that remarkably lucky detective, Able Percy. The rest was damage control. Easy. Just spin in some wild alien nonsense, part truth, part fiction and let the conspiracy theorists do the rest. Then recall the helpers, recycle them and wait.
There was just one nagging problem, as a human would say: who called the police to investigate, in the first place?
For once, Ted was indecisive. He knew he should kill this uncooperative female immediately, but at the same time, she was quite attractive for her species. Perhaps he could learn a bit more, then perform the mating. It had been a few months anyway. And, until Mass sent the females, one had to make do, as the saying went. Even if the human female was only partly anatomically correct. The act would kill her, but her body would not go to waste.
© 2018 Jack Shorebird