The Red Hand Part 10
by Shane Migliavacca
Part Ten The Sphere and The Wolf
I’m falling, the wind is whipping through my hair. I’m going to die, but at least I won’t rot in that cell. Was the voice I heard even real? Or maybe I’ve finally lost it. It’s going to be over regardless. Mom will never know what happened to me. She’ll think I vanished, just another missing person and that’s all anybody will ever know.
What? That voice again. Who?
I’M ALMOST THERE.
I see something. It’s coming straight for me, a glowing silver streak. A sphere, a little bigger than a baseball. With strange curved glowing indentations.
I grab it, holding on with everything I have. My momentum hits the ball thing, making it dip a little. Pain shoots through my hand and I can feel myself start to slip, so I grab tight with both hands.
“What are you?”
Buildings whiz by as it takes me through the city. We head for the outskirts on a slowly descending arch. My hands start to cramp, but I manage to hold tight as burning lines of pain shot through my fingers. I can see the ground getting closer and closer.
My feet hit the sand and I let go of the sphere. My momentum again gets the better of me as I trip, going face down into the sand and rolling. I lay there for about a minute, my heart racing. I sit up and look at my strange benefactor. It hovers there, about six feet from the ground. The long indentations on it glowing blue and green.
“Are you well?” It says. In a flat woman’s voice.
“Yeah. I think so.”
I brush the sand off me then stand up and look back at the city. They’ll be looking for me no doubt. Mr. White and his lizard friends.
“We must go. They will be looking.” It says.
“Yeah. My thoughts exactly. What the hell are you?”
“I am the Mater sphere. A sentient computer.”
A computer? That thing? More importantly can I trust it?
“Where did you come from?” I ask.
“I was created by Maebh the witch.”
I laugh. That figures. Of course she made it. Where has this thing been hiding the whole time I’ve been here?
“We most go. I detect lifeforms on the move.” It says.
“Okay, okay. Let’s get the hell out of here. You want me to grab hold of you?”
“You weigh too much. You walk.”
So I follow it and it takes me in the direction we’d been traveling in before the sandstorm. As we’re walking it hits me: I left all my stuff back there. My cloak, my bedding and the backpack. Without food and water I’m not going to get very far. Unless this flying baseball can dispense food and water, but I somehow doubt that.
We’ve been going for some time when I stop. My feet aching, sweat burning my eyes. I sit down in the sand.
“I need a time out.” I say.
The sphere stops. It hovers there for a moment and then floats over to me.
“Do you require aid?” It asks in its flat feminine voice.
“I require a rest. Maybe a big ass burger and a soda too.”
A beam of light shoots out of the sphere, blinding me momentarily. The beam running up and down my body. I shield my eyes with my hand as it works its way back up.
“Hey! What the hell?”
“I am scanning you. You do not immediately require food or drink. You can continue on without food or water for approximately…”
“Alright! Alright.” I stand up. “I get it. Lead on Commander Data.”
I continue on through the hot sun that is beating down on me over the endless sand. The sun starts getting lower in the sky. Occasionally I look over my shoulder, wondering if we’re being followed. I could ask my new computer friend, but I don’t bother. I’d probably get a pissy answer.
“You require rest.” It says. Breaking the silence which had set in some time ago.
“Got that right.”
“We are being followed.” It says. Finally confirming what I felt in my gut.
“Who? Where?” I say scanning the horizon. “Is it the lizards from the city?”
“Unknown. But it has been following us for some time.”
For some time? “And you’re just telling me?” I say. Anger crackling in my voice. Why does everyone here treat me like a child?
“I did not tell you because it is keeping its distance.”
“And you’re telling me now, why?”
“Because there are caves ahead. You should rest. Perhaps you can hide yourself. But we should go now, before it can see us.”
I run after the sphere as it flies ahead, leading me to a large outcropping of rocks. I pause at the cave entrance.
“Is it safe?”
“I detect nothing inside.”
The sphere radiates a soft glow, lighting my way. There’s a slight descent past the cave entrance leading to the main area. It’s not that big but it’ll be roomy enough for the night. I just wish I had something to eat or drink. I feel my stomach rumble. I’ve spent a lot of my time here hungry and in caves. It’s getting to be a thing. I just hope whatever is following us doesn’t think to come in here. I stare at the cave entrance.
“Are we okay here?”
“It has stopped moving.”
Great. Maybe it knows we’re in here. It could be one of the blue lizards out there, following us since we escaped waiting us out. Or it could be something worse. Something like Mr. White’s “boy.” A shudder runs through me thinking about the touch of that thing again.
“Rest.” The sphere says. “I will wake you if there is trouble.”
“Cool. What should I call you? Sphere or ball doesn’t really cut it.”
“I require no name. I am the Mater sphere.”
“Right. Hallie it is. Just don’t go crazy on me Hal.”
I lean against the cave wall closing my eyes, sleep comes on quickly. I dream of home. The house I grew up in. A man is chasing me through the house. A white mask covers his face. He’s holding a large knife, the blade glows from within. I run into my bedroom and I hide in the closet. Past the clothes hanging there I find a tunnel. The man is just outside my closet, banging on the door. I crawl into the tunnel hoping to escape. The tunnel weaves throughout the walls of the house until finally I come out in the attic. In the attic a large mirror stands at its center. The glass surface ripples like water and I reach out towards the mirror. Before I can touch it, the man enters the attic. I try to escape but he stabs me in the shoulder. Instead of blood, bugs pour from the wound. I reach for my attacker’s mask, pulling it free. Underneath is the face of a lizard.
I wake with a feeling of weightlessness. I sit up. Its early morning. Hallie is sitting on the ground. Can spheres sit? I crawl over to it and shake it.
“You alive Hallie?”
It shoots out of my hands, hovering in the air.
“Do not do that.” Hallie says. Almost sounding annoyed. I smile. I can even piss off machines.
“Do you sleep?”
“I do not. I was simply powered down but still running.”
I get up, stretching. I stink. God I wish I could take a long hot bath. My stomach rumbles again.
“How soon till we meet up with Maebh?”
“Within a day’s time depending on how far we make it today.”
Another day? I think I can make it that long. I’m thirsty and hungry but I can hang out a bit longer. I can’t believe how much I miss Tenth and Maebh. The thought of seeing them again soon energizes me. That and the hope that I’ll be closer to getting home.
“How about the thing following us?” I ask. “Is it still out there?”
“I have detected no more movement since last night.”
Good. Maybe they lost our trail and gave up.
We head out back across the sands. The sky was a dark orange color this morning. There’s a foreboding feel to it, out here in the open. No weapons and nobody else but me and Hallie the sphere. It tells me our stalker is back. Following us just out of our sight. I feel scared as hell. I have since this started, but there’s been things coming at me all the time, I haven't had time to linger on it. I remember my first day of school: Mom was ready to leave me there. I was so scared. I’d never been without her till then. She told me it would be okay. It was okay to be scared. “Being scared is like having a super power. It makes you smarter, stronger and faster. Don’t let fear hold you back. You’ll always be scared. Use it to make yourself better.” She said. I think of that now. I use it as a mantra as we cross the desert. To not stop and dig a whole. Pull the sand over myself and hide. Hoping the world would leave me be. That the scary things would go away.
I’m so wrapped up in thought I don’t notice what’s ahead. A large gully stands before us. There’s a car sized passage through the middle with high walls on either side made of sand and rock.
“Warning. If we enter the composition of these rocks will interfere with my sensors.” Hallie says.
I look at the corridor stretching out before us and then turn and look at the desert behind us.
“We go forward.” I say. Trying my best to sound confident. “Did you come through here before?”
“Negative. I flew over it.”
“Maybe you should fly up and be my eye in the sky.”
“I am forbidden to leave your side.”
“You wouldn’t be leaving me. I’d still be in sight. Right?”
Hallie hovers there in silence. The green and blue light emanating from it grows brighter. Probably processing what I just said. Hopefully I just didn’t overload it or something with my idea.
“This is acceptable.”
I enter the gully, my heart in my throat. Hallie flies up overhead. I walk forward slow and steady trying to keep focused on both the walls and the path in front of me. The walls loom over me like fingers in a large hand. Ready to squeeze shut and crush me in their grip.
“Warning! Warning! Movement!”
I frantically look from side to side. To my left the sand of the wall gives way as a green skinned lizard man emerges. Another springs from the dirt wall to my right. Another two do the same behind me. The four surround me. They’re more primitive in appearance then Tenth or the ones in the city. They jabber excitedly back and forth. They hold crude spears and knives in their clawed hands.
Hallie flies down buzzing around their heads. They swat at her enraged.
I race forward, not having to be told twice. Two of the primitive lizards chase after me the other are trying to catch Hallie. One of my pursuers throws its spear. The spearhead nicks my right calf. I stumble, losing my footing, I go face first into the sand. Face first in the sand seems to be my natural state here. I can hear the two lizards speaking in excited tones. Probably about the Serena dinner they’re going to have tonight. I touch my calf. It feels warm and moist. But there’s no time to check the wound. As the two lizards close on me there’s a loud growl and a flash of gray. The next thing I know is one of the green lizards is getting taken apart by something big. It’s one of those large wolf things! It swipes the one that threw the spear. Ripping open its chest. The other three seeing their companion’s fate and the beast, turn and run. The beast finishes off the fallen lizard. Ripping its head off with its mouth.
I get to my feet, grabbing the spear at my feet and get ready to face the beast. It turns to looks at me. Blood drips from its fangs. It moves towards me and I notice it’s limping slightly. Can it be? The one I saved days ago? It makes a whimpering sound and then sniffs me, rubbing its head against my side. Hallie flies over and it growls at her.
“What is this?” Hallie asks.
“Long story. Everybody chill, okay?”
Later, when we’re on our way again, having made our way through the gully, the wound on my calf was only superficial and I bandage it up with some scraps from my clothes. The wolf beast offers me the body of the dead lizard which I decline. The beast follows alongside us when we leave. It’s the thing that’s been following us since we fled the city. I guess we’re buddies now, after I freed it.
The three of us move on together.
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