By G. W. Thomas
About the Author

What's Gone Before: In a future haunted by Dark Beasts, four survivors, seeking to escape, rescue a little android girl, Christabel, with pennyeyes.† The leader, Brannigan, knows more about the Beasts and Christabel (who calls him Uncle Pete) than he is telling.† Dandy becomes infected by a green slime, turned into a slave of the Dark Beasts, and has to be killed by Brannigan.† A mysterious old man pursues them, perfectly at home amongst the hideous Leepers, Sliders and Spinners...

Episode Three:

River Battle

Brannigan and the android quickly ran the three blocks to the water-front. There they saw Father Lemuel untying a small sixteen-footer, a recreational boat.

"Itís the biggest we could find," he said without complaint. "Should do for four of us."

"Then, Dandy, isnít--"

"No, heís not."

The cleric nodded his understanding and said a quiet prayer for the dead manís soul.

Brannigan left the priest to his business, went forward to help Clara with steering the boat. The assistance was unnecessary the gunman saw as Clara took the boat away from the dock and into the waters of the river. Brannigan leaned in close to speak.

"Angle her that way as much as the current will let you."

Clara nodded understanding. "Brannigan, whatís going on? Who is that old bastard?"

"Never seen him before."

"Still, you must have some idea. You know too much." Clara accused without anger.

"You ever hear of Suzanne Fodor?"


"She was a woman who saw a strange shining disk in the sky one night. The sight of the spinning thing drove her mad."


"She was studied in the asylum. The military became interested before she died. They wanted to know what that thing was. Thought it might be a doorway. A magical door. Imagine what a jump weíd have on the Russians and the Chinese with the ability to enter any room, magically."

"Still, what does that have to do with the Dark Beasts?"

"They found that doorway. Only there were things waiting on the other side."

Clara did not reply. The idea was too big, too nasty to swallow all at once. Brannigan left her to the job of digesting it.

Rejoining the priest and the little girl with the strange eyes, Brannigan saw that their pursuers had finally found them. Standing on the disappearing shore, amongst the weird shapes of Leepers and the mucus-covered slaves, the old man stood waving a friendly good-bye, laughing in a high-pitched wheezy way. Brannigan broke a sweat to hear the distance laughter. It spoke of evil things to come.

"Clara!" he yelled. "Step on it!"

The sixteen-footer roared a deeper growl and the boat sped up. The air had only begun to rush faster before a loud clanking tore at the engine, causing the boat to slow and eventually stop in the bubbling water of the water-course. Brannigan drew his gun, then went to the engine. Clara had pressed the lift button in the cab and the whine of a small motor brought the ruined prop out of the water.

Riding along with the smashed propeller was a creature unknown to the gunman, child-sized, monkey-faced and amphidious. Brannigan fired once but the thing disappeared into the dark water, a shrill laugh on its lips.

"Theyíre coming!" bellowed Father Lemuel, pointing at a distant boat, its engines firing up.

"Quick, Father. Get those paddles out. Use one to keep them off our deck. Iíve got an idea. Christabel, come here."

The little girl walked over calmly. "Yes, Uncle Pete?"

"Can you use your laser to punch their hull as they get closer?"

"Sure, Uncle Pete."

"Good girl. Come on, sit here." Brannigan positioned the robot-child on the canopy of the boat. Christabel primly rolled down the front of her simple jumper, exposing her one, deadly nipple.

"Now, wait until they get close, but not too close."

They did not have long to wait. The distant roar grew louder as another boat entered the riverstream. Brannigan held the child-machineís slender hand.

"Wait. Wait. Now!" he commanded as the other fishing boat drew within a hundred feet.

A bright, single beam flashed from Christabelís flat chest, cutting through the darkness, striking the approaching boat just below the water line. Almost immediately the boat began to sink. Father Lemuel cheered and thanked God.

The android fell back momentarily as her power ebbed. The penny-colored eyes dulled and became black for only a second. Brannigan caught her delicately, replacing her clothing like a tender father would for his child. He carried her back to one of the seats below.

"Now what?" wondered the priest, still watching the pursuers splash in the river water.

"We havenít a prop, but thatís not so bad. If we can paddle her a little farther into the current, the river will do the rest."

Brannigan finished by grabbing the other oar. The priest quickly joined him. The paddling went well. Clara grabbed a cushion from one of the seats and helped. The boat slowly drifted closer to the rapidly moving central current. It was this faster water than hid the intruderís presense.

Brannigan did not know they were under attack until Father Lemuel screamed.

A wicked barbed leg reached up from under the boat, impaling the holy man. He screamed shortly before disappearing over the side. Brannigan dropped his oar, drawing his gun. He pushed Clara back from the side, into the cabin.

"Watch Christabel. Keep her safe."

Clara had no time to reply. A large Spinner -- the largest either of them had ever seen -- pulled itself from under the boat. Riding astride its strange head-body was the old man...

Next episode....Sanctuary!

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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!)