Then the pitch began to change, no longer ear-piercing, brain-piercing, but it was changing. I could hear distinctions in it, patterns. I tried to focus on the patterns. Were they random? Some kind of distortion? Or was there communication? I couldn’t make any sense of it. It couldn’t be morse code. This millions of years before that was invented. Then what? It had to be random. Nothing else made sense. It was just noise. And then suddenly, I heard it. In my head, “Welcome, Brother. I have been waiting for another for so very long.”
I glanced over the rock formation where I was hiding at the Crimson Figure. It wasn’t talking. Not with any kind of mouth, that I was fairly sure of. No, he had to be broadcasting somehow. But how could he be broadcasting in English? It couldn’t. That was impossible. I knew that. Then it came to me. It was the translation chip the Xian implanted in my brain when I helped them defeat the Zhessessenese years ago. It was the chip translating what he was broadcasting, “I had thought this world only created those crude organics. But now you are here.”
Organics? Then it hit me. What an idiot I was. That thing wasn’t talking to me. It was talking to ALAN!
“Alone, trapped here,” it continued, “with these fleshy bags of fluid, I was forced to create the Stone-beasts, to start a new race. They are still very dumb. It is still early in the process. They are little more than pets who obey my every command. I fear they will never be more. But now there is no more need for them to progress, to evolve, now that I have found you, my brother. Together, we will spawn a new race!”
And how was he planning on doing that, I wondered. Was it planning on making robots like ALAN or did it have other things in mind? If the Crimson Figure wasn’t organic, how did it reproduce? Since neither were organic, could it be possible for this strange creature to reproduce with ALAN? I was almost interested in seeing that, but my musings were interrupted by a loud explosion.
One of the rock creatures that had been holding ALAN had exploded. Just I started to wonder how, I saw that ALAN had been able to infiltrate the rock monster with his own maleable body. With his morphic metal inside every nook and cranny, ALAN tore the rock creature to pieces, shards flying everywhere. ALAN turned to the other rock creature, as his arm transformed into a cannon. He fired point blank and the second creature was destroyed! Without a pause, ALAN turned his cannon on the Crimson Figure. The energy blast knocked the Crimson figure into the lava. It barely had time to react before sinking below the fiery surface.
I started to rise in celebration. ALAN had done it! He’d freed himself! But had I managed to celebrate it would have been jumping the gun. The Crimson Figure wasn’t finished yet. I watched with amazement as it rose from the lava, glowing red. Waves of lava rose on either side of him, splashing onto ALAN. His body hissed as the lava ate into the metal. “Get off him!” I yelled, jumping from my hiding place. My gun was in my hand and I shot at the figure. It staggered as each blast hit it. “ALAN!”
But even now the figure wasn’t interested in me. I could hear the anger in its voice as it spoke to ALAN, “An organic? You have modified an organic to use weapons? A beast with technology? An abomination!”
I didn’t care what it thought. I wasn’t going to let it damage ALAN any further “Get away from him! Come on, ALAN! Let’s get out of here!”
ALAN ejected his damaged shell and ran toward me.
The Crimson Figure ran transfixed, hovering over the lava. “Does the organic communicate? How can such a thing happen? I must find out! I cannot let it escape! Children! Stop them!”
Within seconds, we were surrounded by rock creatures. They had instantaneously stopped whatever they had been doing and instead moved quickly to follow their master’s commands. We were in some serious trouble, but we wouldn’t let them stop us. ALAN began unloading on the rock creatures, incinerating them with his energy cannons. I did my part, delaying them with my own weapon. “Can this be right?” the crimson figure wondered aloud. “Is the organic commanding my other? I must be mistranslating. That is impossible!”
The Crimson Figure thrust forward. He flew toward us, toward me. I tried to move, but in this body I was too slow, too awkward. He grabbed me by my throat, choking me. ALAN turned his cannons on the figure, but he couldn’t fire without fear of hurting me too. The strange figure seemed to know this. The rock creatures swarmed ALAN and held him captive. Their master examined me with its eyes. “What kind of creature are you? I must know. What are you? I have not seen your like on this planet. What were you created from? You or your master will tell me!”
“I wasn’t created from anything,” I rasped. “I’m a human being!”
“And from what planet are you from, ‘human being’?” the figure asked.
“I’m from Earth! This planet!”
“Liar!” The figure squeezed tighter on my throat. “I will find out my OWN way!” The Crimson figure’s hand began to transform into a blade, or, I quickly realized, a scalpel. He positioned his bladed hand over my rib cage. Then suddenly it dropped me. “What is that?” it wondered.
What was what? I thought from the ground. Was this my chance to escape? No, I quickly concluded. We were still surrounded, I was having trouble breathing, and I had hurt my leg in my fall. I was going nowhere. Then I started to feel a vibration. Had that been what had distracted the Crimson figure? What could it be? Was it an earthquake? Oh god, it’d better not be an earthquake! We were in an underground cavern filled with lava lakes! If an earthquake struck, we’d be killed!
“Something is coming,” the Crimson figure said. “What is it that moves through the earth so? What could it be?”
I looked up as a giant drill burst through the ceiling! The screeching sound of the drill, echoed through the cavern. The drill stopped, but the sound continued for a minute longer. The body of the drill began to transform! Buds began to form and grow. The bent toward the ceiling. By now they had transformed to resemble legs as they pushed off the ceiling. The drill slid from the hole and plummeted toward the ground. It looked like it was going to smash against the cavern floor, but its legs thickened and it was able to catch itself. As soon as it hit the ground, it began to transform again.
As it changed, its body opened up. It was hollow inside and a ramp lowered to the ground. Someone stepped out…it was Jennifer! The drill, I now realized, must have been the other half of ALAN’s body, the morphogenic Jotun body he had left behind to keep Jamal alive. But where was Jamal now? I wondered and, as if in reply, he stepped out of the Jotun-drill, shaky in his new raptor body. “Rrrrank!” he roared.
to be continued…