By G. W. Thomas
About the Author

What's Gone Before: In a bleak future, Dark Beasts have invaded the Earth through "Doorways".  Four survivors, seeking to escape, rescue a little android girl, Christabel, with pennyeyes.  The leader, Brannigan, knows more about the Beasts and Christabel than he is telling.  Dandy and Father Lemuel are killed and, fleeing down a river, Brannigan and Clara (and Christabel) are pursued by a mysterious old man, perfectly at home amongst the monsters.  Riding one beast, the old man tries to board the boat.
Now, the conclusion...

Episode Four:


Brannigan raised his gun, pointing it straight at the old manís toothless mouth. "Back off, old man, or itís over."

"Oh, I donít think youíd do that to an old friend. Especially one you owe so much."

"I owe you for Dandy." The pistol wavered on the point of explosion but Brannigan did not fire.

"You donít recognize me, do you, Brannigan?" chortled the ancient one, opening his arms like a mother to her child. "Donít recognize your old partner?"

"My partner? Stephen Valentin died--"

"Behind the gateway. Yes, so you thought, when you left me for dead," growled the old man. "Left me for the likes of these." He indicated the Spinner he rode on.

"How--?" gasped Brannigan, unbelieving.

"I was first in. I met these things as they poured into our world. Met them and joined them. There was a strange creature on the other side -- Iíve never seen one like it here -- like a Slider but with arms and hands and a face. It--" The old one searched for the right words. "--shaped me. Made me like this. Gave me servants, sent me out to find -- her." With a tilt of the head, the old man indicated Christabel, who still sat inanimate on her seat in the boat.


"Oh, I think you know. Thatís where you were headed, if Iím not mistaken. And youíll get there. Only it will be as my slave."

The ancient one who had been Stephen Valentin laughed deep and long, like the monster he had become.

Brannigan fired four shots into the old man and his mount. He had the satisfaction of seeing both fall overboard, though he doubted that the withered thing that commanded the Dark Beasts was dead.

He went to Clara, looked her in the eye. "Weíve got only a few seconds before he comes back. Now listen carefully: find something we can use as a flotation device, big enough for both of us and get ready to get wet."

The woman nodded and began tearing the seats out of the boat. She saw Brannigan go to the android girl. He turned on the switch at the base of her neck. Her eyes opened and she said, "Hello, Uncle Pete."

"Hi, Beautiful," he said in a soft voice, then in a mechanical one,"Operation AU-D. Sorry, kid."

With this command, something clicked and Christabelís chest opened, revealing a glowing unit inside.

"Goodbye, Uncle Pete."

"See yah," he whispered and kissed her good-bye. Taking the unit from her chest. The androidís penny-colored eyes opened and closed, the irises spinning like dials. In a robotic voice, Christabel repeated endlessly, "AU-D, AU-D, AU-D..."

"Címon," Brannigan said to Clara. "Take this." He handed her the glowing heart of the android. "Take it and keep it safe. And if the worst happens, drop it into the river. Never let him have it."

Clara accepted the device, then suddenly leaned in towards Brannigan, kissing him once softly on the lips. There wasnít much else to say.

"Now, get in the water," the gunman instructed. "Swim in that direction. With luck, Iíll catch up with you in a little while."

The woman waited no longer, but dove into the black swell of the river. She reappeared and took hold of the white flotation seat from the boat and kicked. Brannigan encouraged her to go faster.

The gunman did not have long to wait. In the few seconds he had to himself, he checked a small dial hidden in Christabelís scalp. He swallowed nervously and checked his gun. Only two shots left.

Brannigan could feel their approach before he saw any of his attackers. He grabbed Christabel and waited with gun drawn.

The front of the boat dipped, then the back. The gunman could see the long, barbed legs of the Spinners cutting into the wood of the vessel. The anchored limbs pulled the obscene head-bodies out of the water, spilling generous amounts of water along the deck. At first Brannigan could not see Valentin. The old man was not riding astride either Spinner. Then the creature at the stern spoke to him.

"Brannigan, you fool. Now I have her."

The gunman did not bother to wonder at how the old man had changed -- shaped -- himself into this new creation. Brannigan threw the robot straight to him, while spinning and firing his remaining two slugs into the other Spinnerís face. Then he was gone, overboard.

Valentin, his huge head bristling with spiderís legs, lurched forward to grab the falling android. He called to the other Spinner to retrieve Brannigan, but the creature was already turning into slime on the bow. Never mind, thought the man-spider. I have her! I have--

Christabel stopped her chant. She finished, "...AU-D -- Android Unit -- Destruct."

A loud explosion followed, sending pieces of Spinners and the vessel itself into the air, raining down splinters on the water. The deadly fire and steaming fallout were too far from Clara to matter. The river pulled her farther and farther from the scene of destruction.

"Brannigan," Clara sighed as she swam on through the bits of wood and refuse. She never turned to look at the burning boat or its long plume-like funnel of smoke, though she could hear the crackle of flames and smell the odor of gasoline.

She paddled on farther. The current of the river was strongest now. It pulled her in directions she did not want to go and had to fight it to stay on course. There was a tugging at her leg. Clara thought it was only the clawing torrent at her when she felt the cold fingers of a hand biting into her skin. She spun, ready to kick the monster next to her, but stopped when she saw who had hold of her.

Brannigan, struggling with the fast water, had reached out and found her at last. Clara laughed, pulling him to the safety of the boat-cushion.

"Told you Iíd catch up," he managed as he lay exhausted on the float.

"Sure. Just watch what youíre grabbing. Iím not that kind of girl."

They kicked on in dark silence. Clara concentrated on swimming but, when a lull in the river gave her an opportunity to catch her breath, she asked, "Where are we going?"

"To the far side."

"The old man said you knew where you were going, like you had a place in mind."

"Yes, itís just a little farther. Come on, kick harder."

A dark timeless while later, Clara felt sand under her feet. Brannigan helped her out of the water to a beach covered with old tires and driftwood. Both of the swimmers collapsed gladly amidst the refuse and rested. Clara felt sleepy but Brannigan insisted that she fight the urge.

"Itís just a little farther."

After their break, the two headed into the willows that lined the riverís edge. These small trees gave way to thicker, older beeches. Brannigan cut through them until he came to a fence. It bore a sign, saying mysteriously only "HUTT 7482". They followed it to a small cement building. He opened the door by placing his hand on what looked like an ordinary outdoor light. The lamp scanned his palm, then opened the knobless door.

Inside was an elevator. They got in and Brannigan pressed a button. The cage dropped and they were soon underground. The elevator fell and fell. The sensation frightened Clara but she waited without complaint. After another three minutes, the lift stopped short, opening into a gigantic cement cave.

"Where are we?" Clara blurted out at last.

"A secret Government base. Where Valentin and I used to work."

"Used to?"

"Yes, he designed spaceships. And I made androids."

"You made Christabel?" Clara gasped.

"Yes, thatís why she called me Uncle Pete. My name is Peter Brannigan."

"Why did you name her ĎChristabelí?"

"From a poem by Coleridge -- what? That surprises you? Iíve read a book or two in my time."

Clara laughed. "But ĎChristabelí?"

"You should have heard what the first eighteen of them were called."

Clara sobered with darker questions. "But what about the Dark Beasts? What do they have to do with androids and spaceships?"

"Nothing, really. Stephen and I were both pulled from our jobs to help with the Gateway Project. We were the first to enter the opening--" Brannigan let his words trail off. Those memories were not pleasant. "Come on, hereís why weíre here."

Brannigan led the woman to another elevator but this one was smaller and straddled the side of a tall craft, a rocket. The cage rattled up its gleeming white side until they were at the door at the top. The scientist led his companion into the small cockpit and closed the hatch. A deep hissing followed as the cabin pressurized.

"What now?" Clara asked pensively.

"Now we get the hell out of here."

"Where? Britain? Australia?"

"No, the Dark Beasts are there too. Once we cracked the first doorway, they were able to open them anywhere on Earth. Only minutes later they were in Japan, Africa -- everywhere."

"Where then?"

"Space. Thereís a space station orbiting Phobos."

"But wonít the Beasts be able to open their doorways there too?" wondered the woman.

"No, I donít think so. That was why Valentin wanted the android. He built this rocket and he knew he had to have the android to fly it. It was designed that way. With space travel the Beasts could take over any planet. But for now, theyíll have to be satisfied with Earth."

"But Christabel blew up. How are we--?"

"Watch," Brannigan said, taking the glowing unit from his pocket. The mechanism did not seem any worse for having been in the river. The scientist attached the box to the console next to a small seat designed to hold the entire android. Once attached, the spaceship came to life like a great living mountain.

"Christabel. Plot course for Phobos Station. And commence lift off."

A soft, disconnected voice came from some unknown panel, "Yes, Uncle Pete. Lift off commencing..."

The End

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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!)