By G. W. Thomas
About the Author

Episode One:

Four Becomes Five

The Leeper jumped from the shadows, reaching out with its strange hand-feet. Brannigan kicked at the shambling figure, causing it to fall back against the remnants of a shabby door. The Leeper grunted before Branniganís gun filled it with slugs. The thing never got up again, leaking bile-green liquid in the dirty hallway.

"Thereís one less of them," the gunman congratulated himself.

"Big deal," sighed Dandy Smith, looking up the alleyway. "Here come a dozen more."

"Címon. Up here," Brannigan said, pulling down the ladder for the fire escape. The other three climbed quickly up as the tall gunman covered their retreat with his .45. Father Lemuel, no longer agile at the age of sixty-two, took the longest, holding up the mechanic, Smith.

"Hurry up, Father. They're almost here."

The aging priest made no reply, only climbed faster. Clara Hanson, the only woman of the party, helped the old man up onto the second floor balcony. Soon Dandy Smith and Brannigan followed.

Below them, the four watched the howling band of Leepers as they filled the alley, trying to pull down the ladder which Brannigan had stowed safely out of reach. The gunman was tempted to shoot at the mob but knew there was no point. Chicago was filled with such creatures -- and worse. He would save his ammo, only five shots left in his gun and the other clip in his jacket pocket.

"Letís get inside," Dandy said, pushing the French windows open with his massive arms. "If they find a way inside, weíll be no better off."

Brannigan agreed. "Let me go first. Just in case."

He entered the dark living room ready for any sudden movements. Nothing stirred in the dark shadows. He thumbed the light switch but nothing changed. He moved on to the front door of what had been an apartment. The door was bolted. He left it that way.

Clara sat on the dusty couch and sighed. She was tired. They all were. They had run twenty blocks, trying to escape the frequent bands of Spinners, Leepers and even a Slider, which Brannigan had killed with a lucky shot. The three ton slug quickly disintegrated into a wet pile of snot-color pus.

"Got anything to eat?" wondered Father Lemuel.

They hadnít eaten since the four of them had decided to make a run for the country, where humans were said to still survive, holding their own against the Dark Beasts.

"Clara, look in the cupboards. Iíll check the other rooms. Dandy, take a peek over the balcony, just in case."

Brannigan gave the orders like a man used to the role. The others did not complain. He had saved them all a half dozen times each that afternoon. Listening to Brannigan made survival sense.

A few minutes later they re-assembled. Clara brought dishes, cutlery, canned stew and tinned juice. Brannigan had found nothing in the other rooms except blankets which he gave to Father Lemuel. Dandy informed the others that their Leeper friends had left.

"Weíll camp out here," Brannigan decided, indicating the living room. "If they come pounding on the door, or at the balcony, weíll want to be ready for them."

They ate in silence. When the stew and juice was gone, Dandy and Brannigan made themselves comfortable and slept. The gunman kept his automatic close by, while the mechanic broke off a leg from a dusty table and laid the stout club down beside him on the floor. They were soon asleep.

Despite their exertions, Clara and the priest remained awake. The young woman looked agitated until Father Lemuel asked, "Is there something you want to ask me, Clara?"

"Yes, Father. Itís about God."

"Whether I still believe in him or not?" wondered the elderly cleric. "Of course, I do, my child."

"Iím glad to hear that, Father. My husband, Glen, and our daughter, Eliza, they --" She couldnít finish her words. Tears came to her eyes and she looked much older than her twenty-two years.

"They are with God now, donít worry," reassured the holy man.

Clara nodded wordlessly, fighting her grief.

"Yes, we have all lost loved ones. All except maybe Mr. Brannigan there. I canít imagine him, having any." The priestís tone was oddly condemning.

"Father, heís been very good to us."

"Yes, heís a good man to know, Clara. Donít get me wrong. I appreciate his abilities. Itís just the gun. And how does he know the things he does. I suspect he might have done -- questionable things -- for a living."

Clara began to refute the priest, but a sound drew their attention from their conversation. A sound came from the hallway.

Someone was crying.

The sound pulled Brannigan from sleep. He wordlessly asked the two others what was going on. Clara pointed to the front door and shrugged. The gunman rose, taking his weapon with him. He prodded Dandy twice in the rump with his foot. The mechanic roused slowly, but, once up, carried the club ready for action.

Brannigan cracked the door, peered out. He could see very little in the dark hall. The sound of crying grew louder, and he heard Clara whisper behind him, "Itís a child."

Brannigan wasnít so sure. He had seen Spinners, their obscene head-bodies sprouting multiple legs, calling with the voices of their victims, drawing out new fodder for their gnashing fangs. He waited for a moment longer, then entered the hallway. A single dirty, broken window was the only light. By its meager illumination he followed the hallway. He could hear Dandyís footsteps behind him. Clara remained at the door of their apartment, ready to let them return in a hurry.

The gunman continued walking to the door on the far end of the hall. He tested the knob. It was unlocked. The crying was louder now, cutting through the thin door. Brannigan twisted the knob, let the door swing open on its own.

Inside, gathered around a single candle were three strange-looking individuals, each different from the other. None of them looked at the opened door or the two men in the hall.

Brannigan stepped in, leveling his gun at the two biggest persons, one a withered old man dressed in a suit three sizes too big for him, his face criss-crossed with wrinkles and light blue lines. The other was a tall, fat man in a butcherís apron who held a cleaver. The front of his smock was covered in old blood.

"Hold it right there!" Brannigan commanded.

The old man looked up from his work on the third person, the crying child.

"Eh? What do you want?" hissed the ancient one.

"I want to know what youíre doing to that poor kid?" countered Brannigan, moving his pistol from the fat butcher to the old man, whose eyes spoke of the greater danger.

"Go away!" snarled the withered man, turning his back on the intruders as if they werenít worthy of his attention.

Brannigan moved with trained skill. He pistol-whipped the old man, while moving out of Dandyís way. The mechanic drove his club into the intercepting bulk of the butcher, who collapsed, dropping his meat-ax.

The two reprobates downed, Brannigan stepped in and scooped up the crying child, no more than age four by the weight of its blanket-wrapped body. With Dandy covering his retreat, the trio were quickly back in the apartment behind the locked door.

"Here, Clara. See if you can get him to be quiet."

The woman took the bundle from Brannigan as he remained at the door to listen. The old man and his butcher friend had not followed. It was Claraís surprised gasp that pulled him from his watch.

"Brannigan! Father! Look!"

They all gathered by the couch, looking at the small blond girl-child who continued to cry, despite the fact that the mouth was closed. Her eyes were also squeezed tight and it was this that had brought Claraís exclamation.

"Her eyes! You have to see her eyes!"

Brannigan leaned over, pressing up an eye-lid with a calloused hand. The orb beneath his finger felt solid like a marble. The iris that stared up at him was not blue or even brown but brassy like a penny.

"Sheís an android for Christís sake!" blurted the gunman, backing away in surprise.

"An android! What are you talking about?" demanded Father Lemuel. "You mean a robot of some kind?"

"Sheís an IA-19," offered the gunman.

"Whatís that? How do you know that?" returned the priest.

"Take my word for it. Sheís not human."

"But how do we get her to stop crying?" wondered Dandy. "Sheíll bring every Leeper and Spinner here for blocks around."

"I imagine thatís what our friends down the hall were trying to do. Shut her up."

"But do we have to use--" Clara demanded, motherly concern in her voice. Even if Brannigan said it wasnít human, she saw the child as a little girl. Not all that much different than her own Eliza.

"No, I donít think weíll actually have to disassemble her. Thereís a switch at the back of the neck."

Brannigan felt along her neck-line. The other three looked at him warily, still unsure of his ideas on androids. It was only as he tapped the switch there with an audible click that the others saw how the child collapsed like a unwinding spring.

"Shit, you werenít kidding," said Dandy. "She really is a machine."

"Yes, quite a valuable one. The IA-91 has as much computing capacity as two Crays. Designed originally to fly spacecraft."

"Spacecraft?" chortled the mechanic. "You donít let up, do you?"

"My point is this: sheís probably been giving off that cry-alarm since she was stolen. Our friends down the hall might have been the original thieves but I doubt it. Probably the second or third owners. Sheís worth killing for."

"How do you know all this?" asked Father Lemuel point-blank.

"I just do."

"I want to trust you, Mr. Brannigan, but answers like that donít help."

The gunman nodded his understanding but said no more. "I donít think those two freaks will come looking for her. They probably didnít even know what they had. Letís get some sleep."

They all settled down again after checking the door a second time. Still no sound of pursuit. This time three of them, Clara, Brannigan and the Father, went to sleep, with Dandy taking the first watch. In three hours heíd wake Brannigan. In the morning theyíd leave for the country.

But peaceful sleep was not to be. Only an hour after falling off, the door burst in with a loud report. The butcher clomped through the broken portal with his cleaver raised. Dandy, who had dozed only lightly, met him with his table leg club, blocking the sharp blade. The mechanic was equally as large as the butcher, but his girth was almost entirely muscle where the other man carried large amounts of fat. Smith drove a size-fourteen foot into the other manís belly, sending him back through the doorway.

The old man was behind the butcher and side-stepped as his fat frame collapsed into the hall. The wizened old stick of a man pointed a finger at Dandy and wheezed, "I want the child back. Give her to me."

"Go fuck yourself!" countered Smith preparing a knuckle-duster.

But the old man did not seem interested in Dandyís fist. He raised his other hand and a glob of yellowy slime flew out of it, landing on the mechanicís shoulder. Dandy tried to brush the jelly away but it only enveloped his fingers.

Brannigan and the others were up now. The gunman leveled his .45 at the old man in the doorway.

"Leave now or Iíll shoot you," he said plainly.

The old one cackled at the threat and turned away. The butcher saw his leader leave and followed after casting a few insults.

The gunman closed the door. The lock was busted so he propped a chair against the knob. "Thatís not going to hold for any great amount of time. We better go."

Dandy agreed, taking a moment to clean the offensive goo off onto a dish towel from the kitchen. Clara and the Father packed up some of the blankets, threw some more tins of food into one of them. Brannigan pulled the child-machine up-right by its hair, oblivious to its human appearance. He flicked the switch at the back of the neck, played with a set of micro dials under the scalp. The crying-scream stopped and the little girl stood up.

"Hello, Uncle Pete," it said to Brannigan.

"Hello, Christabel. We have to go."

"Okay, Uncle Pete. Iím ready."

Clara and the priest exchanged glances before following Brannigan and the android girl to the balcony.

The party, now five in number, descended to the deserted alley below. There was no sign of the Leepers who had been there earlier. Even the one Brannigan had shot was gone, leaving only a small yellow puddle...

Next episode....Green Death!

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Pennyeyes is copyright 1999, G. W. Thomas. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)