ALLYBOT pt25: No Bright Way to the Manor

shark-style submarine prototype
taken from an article on the U.S. Naval Institutes’ site

ALLYBOT

Leah slid through a narrow tunnel that winded its way further and further downward. From time to time, she could just see Beathen before he turned a winding corner. Gizmo slid behind her and was using her claws to slow her descent. Leah could sense the presence of the three boys behind her, but no sign of Lamia.

Beathen slid out of the tunnel and rolled along the floor just before Leah came crashing behind him. Gizmo clawed hard at the cave, stopping herself in its portal until Mitch came smashing into her. Chris’ feet rammed Mitch’s shoulders and Chris received the same treatment from David. The concussive forces pushed Gizmo through the hole, leaving deep scratch marks on its walls. The robot and the three teens crashed together in a rolling jumble on the floor.

From the look of the floor, Leah was expecting the singing pain of flesh meeting granite. Now that she was on it, she could feel that it was a heavily padded material. Beathen was already on his feet and had retrieved a remote control from the wall. He hit a button as he strode to the center of what looked like a small cave housing a rectangular pool of water.

In the water floated a large machine that Leah thought resembled a shark. Instead of a pointed mouth and teeth, the thing’s head was completely rounded. A large plane of dark, rounded glass was installed towards the top of the head. It reminded Leah of the tinted windshields she’d seen on trucks. A kind of butterfly door opened and a small stair extended from the machine.

“Come on!” Beathen shouted and Leah was surprised to see that he was gesturing toward her previous captors. They glanced between Leah, Beathen, and the machine uncertainly before David bolted to his feet and ran for the door. As the other two hurried into the machine, Gizmo padded over to Leah.

“Leah, my full functionality has been restored,” Gizmo said in Leah’s head.

“What does that even mean…” Leah spoke aloud.

“I have restored connection with the world’s wireless databases.” A weird sound suddenly emitted from Gizmo’s core. The sound was like a mixture between electricity thrumming and a shrill, white noise. “I cannot locate the other Prime Cores but I can tell that one is in this city.”

Beathen grabbed Leah roughly and shoved her toward the stair. He made a sweeping motion to Gizmo that seemed to urge, “Let’s Go!” Gizmo piled into the floating machine behind Leah, and when Beathen had boarded hit another button to close the door on the thing. The wall in front of them opened upward and the passengers could feel a significant rise in the water level. Beathen hurried into a cockpit-like area and activated several controls.

Inside the mechanical beast, dim lights strung along the roof illuminated what looked like a luxurious living room. One side seemed to be for comfort, with plush sofas that could be pulled out into beds. The other side seemed to be for functionality, lined with a desk toward the cockpit, a refrigeration cabinet, a collapsable table extending from the wall, and equipment shelves towards the tail.

One couldn’t tell from the outside, but each wall presented a side view of the sub’s surroundings, like two great windows extending along the length of the living area. While the three teens consulted each other on the furthest sofa, Leah moved into the cockpit and plopped into the swiveling seat next to Beathen. Gizmo sat upright (for a cat) in a spot between the sofas with her tail curled around her. The golden-brown light faded from her eyes, but she still seemed to be alert.

Leah felt a little troubled wondering what her quattour… HER quattour could be doing over there of her own accord. Her, Leah thought, that’s how I’ll have to think of her now. But hadn’t she always called it “her”? Knowing Beathen, they were heading straight to Leah’s father. It amused Leah to think of how she, Master McNab’s daughter, always had to sneak into her own home. Caves during the day and underwater at night, she thought, There’s no bright way to the manor… Not for me.

She knew she’d have to get more information out of Beathen if they were on their way to her father. If he takes the stone from Gizmo, what will happen to her? For the first time, Beathen’s unquestioning loyalty to her father wasn’t a comfort to her. I’ll have to ease into, she thought, where can I…? Scanning the room, her attention fell on their unexpected guests. I’ll start there… Thumbing over her shoulder, “Why did we bring these jokers?”

Beathen’s voice was losing its agitated edge as he spoke, “They helped us in the fight against Lamia. They may still come in handy. In any case, I’d wanna bring them before your father.”

“I figured that’s where we were going, but where are we going to meet him?”

“At your house, Young Princess.”

Leah sighed at the jibe, “The Manor… of course. So we’ll switch to some other secret quattour once we make land?”

Beathen chuckled lightly, “Master McNab has created a path that leads directly to McNab Manor.”

Leah puzzled over this. She’d grown up in that manor and knew it to be completely landlocked. Can this shark-thing fly too? Glancing over at the pale mechanic, “How long have you had this thing?”

Beathen granted Leah a brief smirk, “Longer than you’ve been alive…”

Then why aren’t there more of them?”

“How do you know there aren’t?”

Leah hesitated a moment before asking nonchalantly, “How many stones are there like Gizmo’s?”

Beathen’s face paled even more, if that was possible, “Now that’s no concern of yours, Lass. And it’s not Gizmo’s stone, it’s your father’s. We’ll find Gizmo an even better core than she had before.”

“What if there was a way that I could find the other cores?”

Beathen took several moments to slowly sputter, “Now what?… How could you?… What?…” He glanced at a display that showed the cabin, looking for Gizmo, “What is she saying? Is she talking to you now?”

“No. No, Beathen!” Leah chuckled innocently. “I was just thinking of ways to help Father,” she lied.

The area in the nose that was not the great glass or control consoles was a series of heads-up displays. Apparently, Beathen could organize views from any perspective on the submarine to his liking. The machine glided through the water with impressive speed and could see the passing scenery from panoramic perspectives. They passed close to ragged rock faces submerged under the St John’s from time to time. Periodically, dark holes in the rock that resembled caves seemed to swallow the light coming from the submarine’s exterior lamps.

The sub entered a vast area with no underwater cliffs in sight and Mitch suddenly stood and walked toward the display opposite the sofas. The talk between David and Mitch suddenly died as the boys looked at their peer questioningly. Mitch pointed to something on the display, “What… is that?”

Three lithe figures were swimming with incredible speed parallel to the sub. Their bodies undulated so that they resembled skinny seals. They were far enough in the distance so that they could only barely be made out, though it seemed pretty obvious that they were not fish. Noticing the boys’ quiet, Leah glanced back to see what they were doing. All three of them were standing in front of the display captivated by what they saw.

Glancing up at one of the displays in the cockpit, Leah saw the three distant figures moving at a speed only a little less comparable to that of their vehicle. Rather than use the controls to try and zoom in on the figures, she stood to stand closer and peered hard at the images. “Um… Beathen?! Beathen!”

Just then, the figures began fading from view and being swallowed by the darkness, and a great lizardly beast faded in. The thing was massive! It was even longer than the submarine, but not as girthy. That thing could swallow any one of us, Leah thought. It was easily larger than the three things that were somewhere in front of it. They’re going to be dinner.

“You all can calm down!” Beathen called to all in the sub, “Those things are just the great swamp lizards that roam through here.” Another great lizard had swam into view and was following on the first one’s trajectory. “They’ll never bother with us. Even if they did,” he motioned to a few blue-orange buttons on his console, “I’ve got enough electric charges here to make them leave us alone.”

Leah was flabbergasted, “How come I’ve never heard of these things?! It seems like they would get noticed in a port city!”

“They haven’t surfaced around here in decades. Too dangerous for ’em. Even if they got away from the spears and charges, somebody would hunt ’em.”

“And so…,” Leah said skeptically, “they have the good sense to not show their faces?” Beathen looked taken aback by the question. His mouth opened as if to say something, but then he turned back to the windshield with a quizzical look. Leah thought of something else, “When was the last time you saw one at all? Down here I mean?”

“Well…” he scratched his chin thoughtfully, one hand steering them further and further through the dark waters, “Well I’m not down here very often. But I guess I’ve seen three of ’em ever. The last one I saw was maybe three or four years ago. Like I said, they don’t come around here very often.”

“The real mystery is what those things were in front of them,” David was standing at the cockpit’s opening. Bruises and scars were developing on his bare chest.

“What things?” Beathen urged.

Chris had resumed his seat but Mitch was walking up from the back, “Those three things in front of it. They were bigger than any fish I’ve ever seen.”

Beathen laughed a friendly laugh, “There’s fish out there bigger than this thing,” he stomped his foot on the metallic floor to indicate the sub.

“Whatever they were, they’re dinner,” David added.

Mitch looked thoughtful, “They didn’t move like fish…”

A third great lizard pulled suddenly swam into view on the opposite side of the submarine. Maybe no one would have noticed it, except Beathen yelped audibly when he noticed the movement from the corner of his eye. Each person was startled in turn as they looked left to see the enormous crocodilian. It was much more fearsome a sight up close.

Its head seemed to take up almost a third of its body and seemed to be a quarter-width of the sub. Its massive torso took up a full third of its length and was easily a third as thick as the sub they were on. The longest portion was the tail, tapering to a point and swishing back and forth rhythmically. A pair of spiny triangles ran parallel from its skull to the tip of its tail. Each of its pudgy, jointed legs ended in webbed claws that looked powerful enough to scratch through stone.

Beathen jerked the sub away from the creature suddenly and one of the exterior lights shined right in the thing’s eye. It was about the size of a woman’s palm, with a swamp-green, diamond-shaped pupil surrounded by a murky yellow iris. With her augments, Leah could clearly see that the eye was covered with some kind of film. It’s like a little windshield, she mused absent-mindedly, a water shield…

The monster flinched away from the light and swam under the sub. it moved into formation with the other two until all three faded from view. “Leviathon,” Beathen whispered, and Leah noticed his old-world accent coming through.

“I can see why those things would be hunted,” Mitch mused.

. . . . .

Beathen approached a rock face head-on with no apparent intention of stopping. A cave opened up and the sub was quickly swallowed by blackness. All those aboard felt the machine rise in elevation until they reached a level of shallow water surrounded by pristine blue walls illuminated with bright white light. Figures of sea creatures were painted onto the walls, giving the false impression of swimming in the ocean.

“No way…!” Leah exclaimed quietly as she recognized where she was.

“Yep,” Beathen said as he parked the sub near the pool’s edge. He looked back at the three strangers, “Welcome to McNab Manor.”

“This is where you live!” Chris exclaimed to no one in particular. He gawked up at the massive home with windows lining its extravagant architecture. Pristinely tended grass extended all around, lined with rows of trees in an alternating display of exotically colored flowers. Several walkways extended from the pool area, each lined with bushes with bright berries of myriad colors growing on them.

David had never seen anything like it. Even from atop the abandoned homes in Zellwood could he make out the lavishness of this place. He marveled at each new thing that he noticed until his eyes fell on Mitch. Mitch regarded the scenery with quiet, sad regard. Did he look less stunned by his surroundings than…regretful?

Beathen as usual led the charge and his entourage was forced to hurry to keep up. Leha noticed that there were no attendants around, which was very strange. As the group neared the wide stair that led to the interior doors, a blonde man with slightly tanned skin walked out with a knowing smile on his face. Leah glanced at Gizmo, watching them all with her golden-brown eyes.

“You!” David shouted. Leah looked back to see the boys already in fighting stances. Her father began descending the steps calmly.

“Yes,” Master McNab said, “in my own house, I should rather think so.”

And then he laughed.

. . . . .

chapter 24 < > chapter 26

Special Author’s Note

It was here that I had to stop writing and plan what would happen from the end backward. I would typically write ALLYBOT several chapters in advance and then post them as they were (rudimentarily) edited. Once I got to this point, I stopped writing new content for nearly a year and a half. When I discussed this hiatus with friends, I explained that I began to know where the story was going to end up, and I no longer liked the characters.

Saying that I “no longer liked” the characters was a little inaccurate since the point of this story in the first place was to write something completely spontaneous. I never liked the characters. I didn’t really want to. The whole point was for them to come to life with their own decisions and desires. Getting to the end of the story, I didn’t want to take them to where they were going. It’s as if, subconsciously, I thought if I didn’t finish their story they’d be free to have the lives they want.

Ultimately, I began to see my own perspective as arrogant. Even if I owed the characters I created nothing, I owed my audience – even the potential one – the end of the story. As a writer, I do feel like I owe my characters something. Perhaps not all of them, but these had grown into a life of their own. The characters of ALLYBOT had become standalone figures in my mind and there were people out there who wanted to know where their story would end.

So, to all of you who read ALLYBOT from the beginning, and to all of you who encouraged me through its hiatus, Thank You! This story exists because of you.

– Juice

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