DAUGHTER OF ROBOT MONSTER
By Nathan Goldschot
EARTH 20XX A.D.: THE BIZARRE FATE OF ALICE ABERNATHY
Alice looked at the clock on the microwave and sighed. “It’s only 9? Mom, it’s kind of hard to sleep-in with you charging around like a rhino.”
“So sorry, princess!” said Alice’s mother, Pauline, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “They offered me work on a Saturday and we need the extra cash. Deal with it.”
Alice slipped past her mother and grabbed her favorite chipped bowl out of the cabinet. “Mom, all I do is deal these days. I’m dealing!”
“I know, I just–” Pauline’s train of thought derailed as she searched the kitchen. “Where the hell is my purse?” she said with an exasperated gasp, throwing her arms in the air.
“It’s hanging on the edge of the chair, mom…like always.” Alice shivered and zipped up her hoodie. “Ugh, it’s freezing in here.” Her bald head left her perpetually cold. It didn’t help that their single-wide trailer blocked wind worse than a picket fence. She plopped herself at the kitchen table and poured milk and cereal in her bowl.
Pauline took a deep breath and sat beside Alice, watching her push Toasty Os around with her spoon. “At some point we need to talk about all of this.”
“It’s no big deal, Mom,” said Alice, shoving her bowl away. Her appetite was somewhere else.
“No big deal?” Pauline wiped away her tears away with her rayon scarf. A thick stack of paperwork they had brought back from the hospital loomed on the far-side of the table. She had scanned each page dozens of times, hoping it would stay something different. Alice was running out of options and time. The doctors seemed more concerned with absolving themselves of their failures than treating the tumor. “Sweetheart, I admire your bravery, but we have to face facts.”
“I know we’re broke, but do we have to get the generic cheerios?” asked Alice. “They have sharp edges, I like the smooth edges.”
“Alice, don’t change the subject.” Pauline was late, but she couldn’t ignore the budding fear beneath her daughter’s prickly exterior. As a paralegal at a small firm, her inbox was always overflowing anyway–work could wait.
“This matters, mom. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”
Pauline was doing her best to hold herself together. All she could see when she looked at her daughter was the surgery scar running like a Mohawk across the top of her head. They had been in that damn hospital for weeks–all for nothing. “Baby, your tumor’s still growing. The surgery didn’t work and you’re too weak for another operation—we’ll have to try radiation again.”
“Does General Mills own the patent on smooth edges? I can’t believe it’s THAT hard to get a smooth edge on a toasted oat ring.”
“Alice, I get it. You’re 16 now, and you feel like you can do this alone. You think if you ignore the cancer it will eventually go away and life will return to normal. Sooner or later reality is going to sink in. I just need you to know that I will always be–”
Alice suddenly looked up from her bowl and stared her mother in the eyes. “Mom! What am I supposed to do? Radiation didn’t work, chemo didn’t work, surgery didn’t work–nothing works. We’ve lost everything trying to fix this and it hasn’t worked. I’m sick of it all. I can either dwell on my impending death, or I can complain about these goddamn fake Cheerios.” A tear rolled down Alice’s cheek, before she turned away from her mother and resumed stabbing at the cereal. “They don’t bob right, either. Look at that. I poke it, and it shimmies. It shouldn’t shimmy, just bob, you know?”
Pauline hugged her daughter tight and kissed the top of her head. “I wish I had the answers for you.”
“I know mom. I don’t mean to act nuts. I just wish I knew how much time I actually had left.”
Pauline swallowed more pain into the growing pit in her stomach. She had been waiting to tell Alice exactly what the oncologist had said, but she couldn’t will herself to say the words. “Hey, we have to stay positive…alright?”
“Oh, sure,” said Alice, shrugging. “Dad would know what to do, he always had the answers for everything.”
“Please don’t talk about him right now. All he has to offer are conspiracy theories, not answers. He’s no help at all.”
Alice scowled. “Dad nearly went homeless trying to keep me on his insurance! Everything he makes gets dumped into the health plan he held onto from his old job. I’d call that helping!”
“Fine, yes…but he’d still have his job if he didn’t act so unhinged all the time!”
Alice shook her head. “Dad is just–unique. He hasn’t been diagnosed with any pathological whatevers or anything.”
“He hasn’t been diagnosed because he refuses to see a doctor. For him, ignorance is bliss. He’s pathologically ignorant, if such a thing exists.”
“Stop, mom. I know you want me to hate him, but, I just can’t.”
Pauline put her hand on Alice’s shoulder. “I just don’t want to see you get hurt again by your father’s bad decision making. It already lost us our house.”
“You mean it’s my fault. I’m the one who got sick!” said Alice, tightening up.
A pained looked crossed Pauline’s face, “No, hey…don’t say that. We already had this talk. None of this is your fault.”
“Well, I’m just saying…it’s not Dad’s fault either.”
“Your father gambled his job on a series of big risks, even though he knew it might put our family in jeopardy. Anyway, that’s enough…I don’t want to get into it.”
“Oh, we’re in it,” said Alice. “You just don’t want to admit you gave up on him. Dad’s never given up on me…not once.”
“There’s a difference between hope and denial. God forbid I bring up any specifics of your treatment around him.”
Alice took a deep breath, feeling her energy rapidly drain. “Yeah, I started talking about the tumor and dad kind of wigged out on me. He launched into a quiet rant about cell phone towers and government satellites causing an excess of beta waves. He’s not taking things well.”
“None of us are,” said Pauline, her voice shaking. “We’ll get through this somehow, I promise you.” Pauline stood up and turned around to hide her tears, but could mask her pain.
Alice stood up and embraced her mother from behind. “Mom, please…I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“You didn’t…forget I said anything. I don’t want to stress you out,” said Pauline, turning around to hug her daughter tightly.
“Mom, I’m still here. Enjoy every glorious moment,” said Alice.
Pauline took a step back, gasping a laugh. “I plan to.”
Pauline looked at the clock and grimaced. “You sure you want to stay with your dad this weekend? I can stay home today if you like–I’m sure the partners will understand.”
“No, it’s alright. I want to go. I miss Dad, even if he’s a little bonkers.”
Pauline stroked her daughter’s cheek. “I just worry.”
“Well, don’t. One weekend with Dad won’t kill me.”
“Alright, then. Get packed and wait on the porch. He’ll be here soon to pick you up on that damn motorcycle. I don’t think I’m ready to see him yet.”
“Are you sure? I think you guys need to talk.”
“I’m going to read through these papers again in the study before I head to work. Have fun and call me if you need me to rescue you!”
“I will. But mom, stop calling the bathroom a study. Studies don’t have toilets in them.”
“Well, maybe they should.” Pauline forced a smile. “We’ll get you ready for your next round of treatment when you get back. There must be something we can do.”
“Uh-huh.” Alice knew there was no way she’d be going back to the hospital unless they shot her with a tranquilizer dart and dragged her there.
THE WRATH OF THE MENACING MAN-APE FROM BEYOND THE STARS
Alice clomped to her tiny, tin-walled bedroom and rifled around for some clothes to stuff in her black duffel bag. She had donated most of her things to charity before moving to the trailer park after realizing all the plastic knickknacks, band t-shirts and stuffed animals would long outlast her. The thought was somehow unsettling.
Alice tossed the duffel to the side, deciding to travel light. She put on a pair of jeans, a red tank top and her favorite HARVEY MUDD COLLEGE hoodie, sent by her cousin. Not needing any hair-care products was strangely liberating. After stuffing her toothbrush in her pocket, she stuck her hand through the beaded curtain of the bathroom to wave goodbye to her mother. The surprised shriek in response made her giggle.
“Alice, I told you not to do that!” said Pauline, rattled.
“Well, next time lock the curtain…or just get the door fixed. Bye mom, love you.”
Alice dropped her butt on the least-wet step outside the trailer to wait for her dad. A light drizzle steadily bit against her skin. She pulled up her hood after remembering she had neglected to grab her cap. Despite her steel-studded shell, she still felt self-conscious about the scar on her head.
As if on cue, Alice’s friend Marty emerged from her trailer with a grin. She was wearing pink rain boots, magenta tights, and a massive sweatshirt featuring a kitten with angel wings. A clear rain poncho protected the garish ensemble. Somehow, none of the pinks she wore matched.
Alice gave Marty a weak wave and forced a smile.
“It’s starting to pour!” yelled Marty, stomping gleefully through some puddles on her way over to Alice.
“Are we really the same age?” groaned Alice.
Marty laughed. “You just had your birthday, right? My birthday is in January, so I’m actually older than you.”
“Shit,” grumbled Alice. Martha Bastion had immediately glommed onto Alice the moment she arrived in the park. The sunny optimism of Marty’s polar-opposite personality initially irritated Alice, but such incessant positivity eventually won her over.
Marty sat awkwardly next to Alice on the cramped step. “What’s up, butternut?”
“It’s butterCUP,” corrected Alice, scooting over.
Marty shrugged. “I like NUT better. Want to go throw cinder blocks into the culvert?”
“Nah, not today. My dad is coming to pick me up.”
Marty’s eyes went wide. “your DAD? The crazo?”
“He’s not crazo—er—crazy! He’s a genius.”
“My mom said that he flipped out and that being an inventor isn’t a real job.”
“He’s not an inventor, he’s an engineer, and what does your mom know? She’s a stripper.”
“She’s a bartender at a gentleman’s club…she’s not even naked most of the time,” countered Marty.
Alice shrugged. “Right. Class act over there.”
“Those girls are really nice. You shouldn’t say mean things about dancers.”
“One of them does have a pet raccoon.”
They both laughed.
“I think your head looks cool like that. It’s like totally punk rock,” said Marty, looking at Alice’s scar.
“Yeah?” Alice rubbed it. She still wasn’t used to the texture.
Marty fiddled with a piece of gravel. “So, that stuff they did in your brain. It worked?”
“Yup,” lied Alice. She didn’t have the heart to tell Marty the truth.
Marty jumped up and grinned, holding her hands together under her chin.
Marty tackled Alice. “I’m so happy!”
Alice coughed and pushed Marty to the steps beside her. “I’m okay for now! Who knows though…don’t get too excited.”
Marty’s lip quivered and her eyes started to shine. “Okay.”
Alice put her arm around her and smiled. “Don’t cry, okay? I’ll be fine.”
Marty nodded but was at a loss for words. Alice crawled under Marty’s big poncho with her and they went quiet for a few minutes as they watched the rain fall.
The sound of Alice’s dad’s motorcycle suddenly poured into the park. Alice knew he was about to round the corner.
“Is that your crazo dad?” asked Marty. “Hey, can I go with you? I’ll text my mom.”
“He’s not a crazy!”
Slats Abernathy pulled up in front of the trailer and skidded in the dirt. The brown Honda CX500 he’d had since the 80s was decidedly middle-of-the-road. The only thing vaguely interesting about the motorcycle was its sidecar.
“What the hell?” mouthed Alice.
Alice and Marty’s jaws dropped. Slats was wearing what looked like an orange gorilla suit–complete with plastic pecs and abs–topped with a spherical silver helmet adorned with a pair of bent antennas.
Slats swung open the round porthole covering his face and turned to face his daughter with a smile. “Alice! I missed you, sweetheart.”
“Dad! What the fuck are you wearing?” asked Alice, her mind boggling.
“Language please, come give dad a hug,” said Slats.
Alice ran up and hugged her father through the bulky suit. “Dad, what is this?”
“I’ll tell you all about it later. Hello Martha,” said Slats, waving.
“Uh… hi Mr. Abernathy.” Marty’s eyes didn’t want to blink.
“Can Marty stay with us over the weekend?” asked Alice.
Marty started shaking her head. “No, that’s okay Ali–”
“Don’t be a puss, Marty!” said Alice, suddenly wanting her friend alongside her.
“Alright, I’m coming,” said Marty, reluctantly.
Slats narrowed his eyes for a moment. “Well, I suppose it’s fine, if Martha’s mother says it’s alright.”
“Well, I just texted her and she responded with an emoji of a pineapple. I think that’s a yes,” said Marty. “She had a long night last night.”
“Good enough for me. I’m glad I brought along the sidecar. Hop in, Martha. Alice, you can ride behind me. Hold on tight. Do you have your things?”
Alice patted the toothbrush in her pocket. “Yup.”
“This is kinda cool!” said Marty, jumping into the sidecar and tracing her hands around the chromed edges.
“No, it’s not,” said Alice, crawling behind her dad and putting her arms around his thick, furry middle.
“Ugh dad, this thing smells like a wet dog.”
Pauline stepped out the front of the trailer just in time to see an orange abomination spiriting away her daughter on the back of a motorcycle. She pinched the bridge of her nose and lowered her head. “Jesus Christ, Slats.”
HEED THE WARNING OF RO-MAN: UTTER DESTRUCTION AWAITS!
The motorcycle puttered directly through the city center, across the railroad tracks, through the bad part of town, then the worse part of town, over one more set of railroad tracks until stopping at the edge of an industrial park. A row of moldering brick and mortar factories loomed behind the five-floor brownstone where Slats lived.
“Your apartment is in there?” asked Marty, feeling a shiver. “Where’s the rest of the block? Everything is demolished!”
“Not true,” said Alice, “there’s a crack house on the corner.”
Marty went pale. “Oh, right.”
“Even that’s gone vacant, I’m afraid,” said Slats, parking the motorcycle next to a particularly large pile of rubble. “The neighborhood could use some urban renewal, but I’m not holding my breath. They condemned most of the buildings around here due to seepage from the can opener factory behind us. None of those towering stacks are still belching smoke, but there’s still plenty of toxic sludge to go around.”
“Can openers? So why didn’t they tear down this building too?” asked Marty.
“My landlord has one hell of a lawyer,” said Slats. “Considering no one wants to live here, rent is a real steal. Plus, it’s nice and quiet.”
“Too quiet,” said Marty, regretting her decision to come along.
“It’s not that bad, Marty,” said Alice.
Slats unlocked the heavy front door and they started walking up the stairs. He turned back to his daughter. “Alice, do you need me to carry you?”
“No, dad, I’m good,” said Alice, huffing and puffing a bit. She was somehow getting used to seeing the gorilla suit. “Isn’t that thing hot?”
“Unbearably,” said Slats with a smile.
Alice shook her head. “Why the hell are you wearing it?”
Slats didn’t answer.
Marty gasped as she entered Apartment 501. Stepping through the doorway was like traveling through a portal to a different dimension. The tar-stained, trash-strewn, neighborhood crumbling around them stood in stark contrast to the luxurious interior of Slat’s dwelling. “This looks like some loft in SoHo,” said Marty, marveling at the dark hardwood floors, Swedish-style furniture and paneled tea-green walls.
“Unexpected, right?” said Alice with a laugh.
“Everything in here was recovered from foreclosed tenements in the area,” said Slats, sitting awkwardly in his bulky suit on an antique chair near the window.
“You mean it was stolen,” said Alice, crossing her arms with a smile.
“Technically, yes…but in my defense, all of this had been abandoned–just waiting to be turned to dust by a wrecking ball.”
“Wow,” said Marty.
Slats continued. “The kitchen is a work in progress—there’s just a mini fridge and a hot plate—but I eat out most of the time, anyway.”
“Considering what happened to the rest of the neighborhood, aren’t you worried your place will get smashed too?” asked Marty.
“Oh, it’s a certainty. Mr. Lanton’s lawyer can only push back against the federal government for so long. I figure I have about four weeks before I’m given notice.”
“What?” said Alice, shocked. “You never told me that!”
Slats leaned forward and took off his helmet, revealing a messy shock of chestnut hair. There was a mischievous glint in his gray eyes. “Sweetheart, it’s alright. I always knew this arrangement would be temporary. It’s all part of my plan.”
Alice pulled up a chair and sat across from her father. “Then why even bother fixing this place up?”
“Alice, I missed you. I needed something to keep me busy. As you know, idle hands create chaos.”
“Only in your case,” sighed Alice. “I missed you too, dad. Where are you going to live?”
Slats shrugged. “It will all work itself out.”
“Serious bummer,” said Marty, plopping on the leather loveseat with a yawn.
Alice squinted against the glare reflected by her father’s orange faux fur. “Okay, I was momentarily distracted, but out with it…tell me about this horrible costume you’re wearing.”
Slats laughed. “Horrible? You mean wonderful! And the wonders are just beginning.”
THE ORIGIN STORY OF THE INTERSTELLAR VILLAIN…REVEALED!
Marty fell asleep on the loveseat with her headphones blaring. Alice laughed. “The poor sap has seen more in the past hour than in an entire year in the park. She needs to sleep off the shock.”
“Alice, before I give you the full story of this suit, I need you to confirm something for me,” said Slats, his tone becoming serious.
“Yes, I think you’re whacked,” replied Alice.
“No,” said Slats. “I need you to tell me what you desire more than anything else.”
“To get rid of this brain tumor, duh,” said Alice.
“Beyond the obvious, of course. What did you want most as a child? What did you want to be?”
Alice stared out the window for a moment. “To be an astronaut.” A tear slipped down her cheek. “It’s not going to happen now.”
Slats smiled wide. He took Alice’s hand in his. “Don’t give up on that dream.”
“Easy for you to say,” said Alice. She pulled her hand away gently. “Come on, stop stalling dad. Tell me about the gorilla.”
“Alright. As you know, I love old broadcasting equipment. Repairing HAM radios is a passion of mine. I occasionally go to auctions or estate sales to try and track down the parts I need.”
“Ever hear of eBay?” asked Alice.
Slats chuckled. “Not as much fun.”
“Sorry, go on,” said Alice.
Slats continued. “On a whim, I went to an auction in an old warehouse near the southside pier. They were selling off the assets of a freight company that had gone belly-up. After auctioning off some rusty boat parts and fishing equipment, they started taking bids on old shipping containers, contents sight-unseen. The last box received no bids after the auctioneer warned it was likely empty, based on its weight. I took a chance and spent a pittance on whatever might be inside.”
“You’re lucky you didn’t get mugged down there,” said Alice.
“You sound like your mother,” said Slats. “I honestly hoped the thing was mostly empty, considering I only had the towing capacity of a motorcycle sidecar. The auction company loaned me a pair of bolt-cutters and gave me directions to container 061053, which I found sitting behind a rusty chain-link fence on the other side of the dock.”
“Spooky. Was there a low fog and tug boats moaning in the distance?” asked Alice.
“Sure, why not,” said Slats. “Once I located the rusty container, I clipped the lock and opened the doors. A large cardboard box was the only thing sitting inside. After cutting open the box, I found this helmet staring back at me, atop a sea of orange. A yellowed note was stuffed in there too.” Slats stood up and collected a crumbling piece of paper from a mostly-empty book shelf and handed it to Alice.
Alice took the note and read it:
RO-MAN: KEY SUIT / MASTER
PROPERTY OF THREE DIMENSION PICTURES INC.
DRY CLEAN ONLY
“This is some kind of movie prop?” asked Alice, looking up at her Dad.
“Yes,” said Slats, beaming. “It’s a monster costume from an old, no-budget 3D movie. I checked it out from the library. It’s so truly awful that it nearly swings back around into masterpiece territory. An iconic piece of science fiction film history from the 50s. The creature’s name was Ro-man.”
“Ro-man? Clearly not that iconic. I’ve never heard of it,” said Alice.
“This poster was the only other thing in the box,” said Slats, unrolling a musty broadsheet on the tabletop.
Alice laughed. “Wow, people thought this was scary? It looks like zombie Donkey Kong.”
“Simpler times I suppose,” said Slats.
“Is this stuff worth anything?” asked Alice.
“It’s priceless,” said Slats.
“Yeah, I don’t think so.”
“You’ll see,” said slats. “Turn the note over.”
Alice flipped over the piece of paper and read the handwritten scrawl.
I don’t know why you want this, but please, don’t wear the damn costume under any circumstances. This suit is cursed. Something happened after I put it on and my mind hasn’t been right ever since. Consider yourself warned. I should have just destroyed the thing.
“Whoa. Who’s Phil Tucker?” asked Alice.
“Tucker was the film’s director. I’m not sure who Cliff is,” said Slats.
“Cursed? What happened?”
“Tucker attempted to take his own life after Robot Monster was universally ridiculed, but thankfully he wasn’t successful. He went on to a successful career as a film editor, but more importantly, he invented a cutting-edge turbine engine to replace the standard combustion engine found in most cars at the time. Every auto makers turned him down because the tech was too revolutionary. Doesn’t it seem strange…a film director inventing an engine?”
“Okay, you lost me,” said Alice, putting down the note.
“Don’t you see? It was all because of the suit! Tucker said it was cursed, but he just couldn’t handle its power!”
“Dad, I think you need to calm down.”
“I can’t explain how it happened. Maybe extraterrestrial influence, or exposure to the chemicals used to treat 3D film stock…maybe even voodoo, but nevertheless, this suit contains a mysterious power to grant an explosive boost to the wearer’s IQ. After putting it on, I could feel the effects immediately. If you’re unprepared for such a jump in intelligence, I could see how it may drive you mad. I tested myself after wearing the suit. My IQ jumped 35 points!”
Alice looked concerned. “Dad, I think you need help.”
Slats took his daughter’s hand excitedly. “You don’t understand…I know how to fix this. All of it! It’s already begun! Soon, our troubles will be over.”
“I think I better call mom,” said Alice, standing up.
“Please, just listen a little longer.”
“Fine,” said Alice, sitting back down.
“I thwarted a bank robbery.”
“I started wearing the Ro-man costume during my day to day errands. I was a touch misguided at first, suspecting the suit had granted me super-strength and speed. I now know it was just my increased mental acuity making me feel stronger. In the throes of my increased vigor, I bought a police scanner and waited to hear of any nearby crimes in progress. One day I struck pay dirt. I rushed to the scene of a bank robbery and intercepted the criminals before the police arrived. I blocked the road, causing the thieves’ car to veer into a light pole.”
Alice stood up in alarm. “Jesus Christ dad!”
“They shot at me, but I felt nothing, which only bolstered the delusion I was super-powered and bullet-proof. I pulled two men out of the wrecked car and knocked them unconscious with a headbutt from my helmet. That’s when I noticed the bullet holes in my suit. I was lucky the costume is so bulky–the shots went straight through the padding on either side of me, missing my body.” Slats stuck his finger in a hole in his suit and laughed. “That was certainly an eye opener.”
Alice shook her head. She was speechless.
“When I heard the sirens closing in, everything became clear. I knew exactly what to do and how to do it. Please don’t judge me, but before I fled, I took half of the money from the robbers’ hefty bag full of cash and stuffed it inside my suit. I promise I’ll return the funds as soon as I’m able, but right now I need it for the plan.”
“Plan? You’re a fugitive!” said Alice with a gasp.
“I’m safe. That was a week ago. If they were going to come for me they would have done so by now. No one saw me except for the criminals. I highly doubt the cops will believe they were apprehended by an orange space gorilla.”
“You could have been killed! I should have listened to mom,” said Alice, shaking.
Marty rose up from the loveseat. “Your dad robbed a bank?”
“No!” said Alice, running over and pulling Marty off the couch. “Come on, we’re leaving!” She hurried for the door with her friend in tow.
“Wait!” cried Slats. “This has to be fate! The heroine of Robot Monster was so pure the villain couldn’t harm her…do you want to know her name?”
“No!” said Alice, hurrying down the steps.
“Alice! Her name was Alice! She was saved!” cried Slats, over the edge of the railing. He slumped to the floor as he heard his motorcycle start up then roar down the street.
THE MALEVOLENT MONSTER’S PLAN TAKES SHAPE
The next morning, Slats awoke to the sound of his motorcycle. Footsteps were clomping up the stairs. He shuffled off the couch, where he had stayed awake worrying all night and opened the door. Alice was standing in front of him with a tear-streaked face. “Alice!”
“You’re still wearing that thing?” questioned Alice, stepping inside.
“I couldn’t sleep. I was so sure everything was falling into place…then you left. I couldn’t understand it.” Slats smiled. “But you’re back.”
“Dad, I’m just worried about you. I dropped Marty off and told her to keep her mouth shut and wait for further instructions. I don’t want her involved in this. I considered telling mom, but she would have just called the cops on you, or worse. I’m stuck. You need help, but I don’t want you locked up!”
Slats hugged his daughter tight. “You don’t need to worry about me. Things have never been clearer.” He led Alice to the couch and sat beside her. “Are you alright?”
“No!” said Alice, tensing up. “But for some fucking reason, I want to believe you…because if I can’t believe you…it just means you’ve finally gone off the deep end.”
“Alice, I want to make your childhood dream come true. I’m going to take you into space.”
Alice raised an eyebrow. “Pardon?”
“I learned a lot as a freelance engineer for NASA’s commercial partnership program. I learned things I’m sure they didn’t want me to know.”
“Is that why you were fired?” asked Alice.
“Yes, I asked too many questions. NASA was sharing engineering specs with private corporations in exchange for under-the-table funding for their outlying programs, away from the auditors’ eyes. I call it Shadow Funding.”
“Snooping around got you bit on the ass. You went from designing rocket engines to Tupperware containers. Was it worth it?”
“After finding this suit, the answer is yes.”
“As you may have heard, the private space industry has been outpacing NASA’s efforts as of late. Using the secret technology they were funneled, several different corporations developed next generation ‘space planes’—self-contained aircraft that can leave Earth’s atmosphere, maneuver through orbit, then return safely to Earth. As opposed to the massive boosters attached to the old space shuttles, they rely on single rocket engine that can be continuously recharged.”
Alice shook her head. “Neat, but so what?”
“One of these companies, SpearTop Industries, is about to unveil their newest space plane for their stock holders, the XS-5. During this event, the XS-5 will make an unmanned voyage to Earth’s orbit for several minutes. Because of the bad publicity of a failed launch, which is always a possibility, this will be a mostly private event with no press. The lower profile means a lower level of security, and lax security means we’ll be able to sneak on board for the trip. The plane was designed to eventually hold passengers, leaving plenty of room for a couple of stowaways.”
Alice laughed. “Very funny, dad….dad?”
Slats wasn’t laughing. “What do you think?”
“Absolutely not!” said Alice, appalled.
“Daughter, your brain tumor has become aggressive and you’re out of treatment options. The doctors said you have one month to live if you’re lucky. Did your mom tell you yet?”
“A month?” Alice went pale. “No.”
“Well…do you want one more chance to live, before you die?” asked Slats, his eyes welling with tears.
Alice held back her own tears and slumped. The apartment was silent for several minutes.
“Yes,” she finally replied. “Yes, I do.”
Slats hugged Alice tightly. “I don’t say it enough…but you know I love you, right?”
“I love you too, Dad,” said Alice, snuggling into the orange fur. “But…what about you? There’s nothing left for me to lose, but if something goes wrong up there you’ll be–”
Slats cut off Alice with a desperate laugh. “If I ever lost you, there would be nothing left for me to lose, either.”
“Dad, there’s no if…I’m—”
“Shh,” interrupted Slats. “Take the motorcycle back to the trailer park. Have a nice moment with your mom and make it count, just in case things go wrong. Be ready at midnight. When you hear a honk from the edge of the block, follow it.”
Alice choked down her dinner. Her heart wouldn’t stop pounding. She wanted to tell her mother everything, but she knew it would just send her into a spiral.
Pauline patted Alice’s leg. “You okay, sweetie?”
Alice hugged her mother tight around her middle. “What? Yeah. Great pork chops, mom.”
“Shake and Bake. Pretty fancy,” replied Pauline. “You actually seem a little perkier tonight. I’m happy to see it.”
Pauline shrugged. “I have a bit more energy.” Mom, I’m going to hijack a space shuttle and fly into outer space tomorrow.
“What was that, sweetie?”
“Oh…um. Pass the potatoes please.”
As soon as Alice was sure her mom was asleep, she snuck out of bed and put on her black jeans and a black hoodie. She slipped outside and nearly had a heart attack. Marty was standing on the steps of the trailer, her arms crossed.
“What are you doing, Alice?”
Alice took Marty’s hand and led her to the edge of the driveway. “Quiet down!”
“Well? Your dad’s a criminal, right? Not just empty apartments but banks. Are you going to help him rob the next place?”
“No, you dork…you fell asleep and missed the good part!”
Alice sighed. I’m totally insane. “Marty, I learned I don’t have much longer to live…a lot less than I even suspected. Maybe a month.”
Marty sobbed. “What? I knew you were sick…but…oh no.” She wrapped her arms around Alice, feeling her legs start to shake.
Alice wriggled away. “I know it sucks, but fuck it, right? Dad found a way to get me on a space plane—like, a space shuttle–and we’re going to go into orbit above the Earth. I always wanted to be an astronaut. This is my only chance.”
“Outer freakin’ space?”
“Yeah. Don’t say it…I know, I know.”
“Your dad wears an orange fur-suit and a fishbowl.”
“He’s robbing banks.”
“That wasn’t him!”
Marty had a far-away look in her eye.
“I want in.”
“I want to go to space too! Let me come along, or I’ll call the cops.”
“Marty, it’s dangerous! Dad and I…we’re prepared if everything goes wrong.”
Marty pulled out her phone and dialed 9, then 1.
“FINE, fine. Just…pocket that damn thing. Go put on something that isn’t pink…hurry!”
Marty left her trailer wearing a violet flannel shirt and bright purple pants. “How’s this?”
Alice groaned. “I was thinking more Ninja Assassin, then Disney Channel Presents.”
“Oh,” said Marty, looking disappointed.
“Whatever. You ready?”
Marty smiled, barely able to hide her excitement. “Yes!”
After hearing the honk, Alice and Marty made their way down the street. A beat-up white panel van flashed its head lights and a furry orange arm waved from the window.
“He’s still wearing that thing?” asked Marty.
“Apparently,” muttered Alice. “I think it’s a kind of coping mechanism. He says the suit gives him…increased mental acuity?”
“Super powers…or something. Listen, it’s just giving him the self-confidence to go through with this so just roll with it, alright?”
“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” said Marty.
“Shut up and get in the van,” said Marty, uncharacteristically stern.
“That’s the spirit,” said Alice with a laugh, as they pushed open the van door and hopped inside.
“Wait, what’s she doing here?” asked Slats.
At least the helmet’s off. “Marty wants to come to space with us. I told her no, but she insisted.”
“Oh, alright,” said Slats, driving off.
“Really? I thought you’d put up more of a fight,” said Alice, surprised.
“Yeah, me too,” said Marty, sheepishly.
Slats shook his head. “She’s an adult, she can make decisions for herself.”
“Actually, I’m 16,” said Marty.
“Close enough,” said Slats. “Like the van? It’s not pretty, but it will get us to Cape Canaveral.”
Marty smiled. “If we’re going to Florida, can we stop at Disney World?”
“Afraid not, Martha,” said Slats.
“What’s in the box?” asked Alice, looking at a large crate next to her.
“Your space suit, of course,” replied Slats. “I’ll have you put it on once we get to the launch site.”
“Please tell me it’s not bright orange and furry,” said Alice.
Slats laughed. “No, it’s much tamer–stone gray and exceedingly practical. I had it specially tailored for you. A guy I used to work with at NASA was a consultant for a movie studio and he hooked me up with a special effects technician. The suit cost a pretty penny—thus necessitating most of the bank’s money. Good thing I had a backup suit made too.” Slats looked over his shoulder. “Looks like it’ll fit you just fine, Martha.”
“What about your suit?” asked Alice.
“Oh, I had the Robot Monster suit and helmet adapted for practical purposes. It worked brilliantly! Sadly, all the layers of nylon, spandex and Dacron make the thing blisteringly hot.”
“Are we all going to die?” asked Marty, innocently.
“Of course not,” said Slats. “The suit told me this was all going to work out.”
Silence filled the van.
“Maybe we should give ourselves a name for this operation! We’re a team, aren’t we?” said Slats, trying to break the tension.
“Lame,” said Alice.
“No, I like it,” replied Marty. “How about the…um…The Three Friends?”
Alice rolled her eyes. “Sounds real tough.”
“Robot Monster was originally released in 3D,” interjected Slats. “Dangerous. Dutiful. Dynamic? Maybe we could be The Dynamic Three!”
“I don’t care,” said Alice.
Marty smiled. “I like it!”
THE CHILLING ADVENT OF THE DYNAMIC THREE
After driving for several hours, The Dynamic Three stopped and ate a greasy breakfast at a Denny’s. Once full of bacon and regret, they continued on in the dead of night to the outskirts of Cape Canaveral—a mostly barren expanse surrounded by pockets of marshland. Slats stepped out of the van with the girls and surveyed the area with his binoculars.
“Mercury, Gemini, Apollo—all of it happened just a few miles away. If I wasn’t about to shit my pants, I’d be able to appreciate the history of this place,” said Alice.
“A rich history to be sure,” added Slats. “This is where Neil Armstrong took his ride to the moon.”
“I think I heard about that,” said Marty.
Slats stared at Marty in shock.
“She’s home-schooled,” said Alice, feeling her nerves start to fray. The sight of all the chain link and security checkpoints surrounding the facility fueled her apprehension.
“I think I see the space ship!” exclaimed Marty, leaning forward.
“you’re right!” said Alice, immediately gripped with excitement. “You can barely see it through all the scaffolding, but that’s definitely the space plane. It’s massive!”
“That’s our taxi. The XS-5,” said Slats.
“So, when is this happening?” asked Alice.
Marty was shaking as she peered across the runway-scarred plain. “We can’t get past all of that! What are we supposed to do, go in guns-blazing? Did you bring any guns?”
Slats lowered his binoculars. “This entire area has been leased by SpearTop. It used to be part of Cape Canaveral proper, but was decommissioned a few years ago for use by private companies. If this was still under the purview of the US government, I would never attempt such a break-in.”
“Oh, I’m sure this will be a piece of cake,” said Alice, rolling her eyes.
“The circumstances are in our favor. Do you know how much a security guard for a private firm makes in a year?”
“50 grand?” said Alice.
Slats shook his head with a smile. “The median salary is $27,000 a year.”
“Median? Whoa, they’d make more working at that Denny’s,” said Alice. “Are you seriously considering just paying everyone off?”
“Essentially. I still have $50,000 remaining from the bank robbery. From what I can see, there are five security checkpoints between here and the site. SpearTop has this entire area understaffed, especially in comparison to its government-controlled neighbors at the air force station. The few employees they have stationed here are woefully underpaid and will be easily swayed.”
“How do you know for certain?” asked Marty.
Slats thought it wise not to relay the assurances provide to him by his mysteriously omniscient ape costume. “I applied for a job last week and was immediately offered an interview. That’s always a bad sign of a high turnover rate and low wages. We’re going to bribe our way to the launch site and find a place to hide until morning.”
“Then what, genius?” asked Alice. “How are we supposed to get inside the plane? Are we just going to cling to the side of the rocket and hope for the best?”
“Don’t worry, I have it all planned out,” said Slats. He turned to Marty. “I’m so glad you’re here. You’re so innocent–always on the verge of wetting your pants.”
“Thanks?” said Marty, a little stunned.
“No one would call for backup on your account.” Slats went back to the van and returned with a duffel bag. “This is the cash. Start walking to the first checkpoint. Offer the man in the booth seven thousand dollars. Wave us down when everything’s arranged then we’ll meet up with you in the van. Go Dynamic Three!”
Marty’s eyes peeled wide. “What?!”
“If we’re going to fail it might as well be from the very start,” remarked Alice. “Go ahead, Marty. Make it rain.”
Marty walked up the bare road to a beige booth, her sneakers scraping on the asphalt as she trembled. She was holding the duffel bag in front of her, as if it could shield her from a barrage of bullets. She fell to her knees and sobbed as soon as a pair of spotlights blasted her.
“HALT!” yelled an obese man, rushing up with his hand on his hip. Confusion wiped across his face as he stepped closer to Marty. “Who the hell are you?”
Marty stared up at the guard, her eyes huge and wet. “Please sir! My family and I just want to get good seats for tomorrow’s launch!”
“Shut up,” said the man, lifting his walkie talkie.
“Wait!” yelled Marty, standing up. She fished a big stack of cash out of the duffel bag and waved it at him. “Seven thousand dollars!”
The man lowered his walkie. “Huh?”
“My…dad…said he’d give you seven grand if you let us through. All you have to do is say you never saw us.”
“You must be kidding me. How many of you are there?”
“Just me, my dad and my sister.” Marty waved the cash again. “Do I look like a terrorist?”
“Christ,” said the man, rubbing his forehead with a sigh. “There’s four other checkpoints on the way to Site A. Even if I let you through this gate, you won’t get far.”
“We have enough money for everyone. Call your buddies up right now and tell them we’re coming with gifts, and I’ll give you an extra two thousand for your trouble.” Marty didn’t know where the words spilling out of her mouth were coming from.
The guard stepped closer and snatched the money out of Marty’s hand to examine the stack. He rocked back and forth on his heels, staring at the ground. “Damn, this is a lot of cash.” He picked up his walkie again. “Hey, Pete–yeah, fuck you too–just hear me out for a sec. This is going to sound nuts.”
Marty jumped up and down excitedly and waved to her compatriots, lurking somewhere in the darkness behind her.
“I can’t believe this is working,” said Alice, as they arrived at the final checkpoint. The duffel bag was nearly empty.
“I did good?” asked Marty.
“You were amazing!” said Slats, pulling up to the next striped wooden gate.
A scrawny guard slipped out of his cramped booth, shining his flashlight in the van’s windows. “Hey, you the money man?” he asked, stepping up to the driver’s side window.
“Yup, we love science! Thanks so much for letting us—”
“Shut up,” said the man, nervously. “You got the seven?”
“Yup,” said Slats, handing over the cash.
“Goddamn, this is legit!” said the guard with a laugh. “Wait…what’s with the monkey get-up?”
Slats looked down at himself. “Oh, this? We’re entertainers!”
“Yeah, how so?” said the guard,
“We’re…jugglers. We’re working the post-launch after-party tomorrow at the Twin Palms Club, you know, just a few miles back over the bridge. I was assured we’d be allowed at the launch in the morning, but some corporate drone informed me our security clearances wouldn’t arrive in time. My daughters are nuts about rockets, you can imagine their disappointment.”
Alice and Marty wore an artificial pout. “It’s what I want more than anything!” begged Alice.
“So, you morons would pay thousands under the table just to see some big-ass plane take off?”
“Yup,” replied Slats.
“Why are you dressed up now?”
“For luck,” replied Slats, earnestly.
“Whatever,” said the skinny man with a sigh. “If this job wasn’t a soul-sucking ordeal, I’d be calling the cops right now. You swear you’re not going to blow anything up? What’s in the back?”
“Batons, scarves, balls, chainsaws…juggling stuff.”
Don’t say chainsaws! thought Alice, cringing.
“God, you’re irritating,” groaned the man. “Listen, go up about 500 feet and you’ll see a chain-link gate to your left. It’s unlocked to let in the trucks hauling the catering for the big-wigs’ champagne breakfast in the morning. Keep left once through the gate and park in the loading dock next to the other vans. You’ll fit right in, and you should have a decent view of the launch.”
Slats nodded. “Excellent.”
The guard pushed his finger against Slat’s forehead. “Stay put until morning! If I see or hear you doing anything else, I’ll take you down myself!”
“Yes sir,” said Slats. “Thank you so much.”
“Hurry up and get the fuck out of here.” The guard looked in the back of the van with a lecherous smile and a wink. “Have a fun time, ladies. Come by later. I got a couple of balls you can juggle.”
Slats drove off in a hurry.
“Ew, ew, ew…those guys were so gross!” said Marty, shuddering.
“Dad, you have a white van,” groaned Alice. “We could have just posed as caterers! It would have been so much easier, and we’d still have all that money!”
“We made it, nothing else matters,” said Slats. “Now, for the hard part.”
As they drove the van to their hiding spot, they could clearly see the space plane atop an elevated platform, sepulchered inside a cage of white scaffolding and black cables. Blinking lights washed the XS-5 in eerie crimson light as it stretched toward the sky.
“It’s beautiful,” marveled Alice. “I can’t wait!”
Slats harnessed the robust cognitive powers granted to him by the suit to to crystallize the next stage of his plan. “Thank you, Ro-man.”
“Romans?” asked Marty.
“Nevermind,” said Slats. “The control tower is about 500 yards west. The door will undoubtedly require a magnetic pass-card to breach—hopefully nothing more. Once I’m inside, I’ll open the entrance to the cargo bay remotely and unseal the hatch of the XS-5. Afterwards, I’ll join you then we’ll sneak inside. A few hours later, we’ll be in orbit on an automated tour of space.”
“Impossible,” said Alice. “How are you going to get a card? We’re out of bribery money.”
“Everyone takes a break at some point. I noticed the commissary as we were driving by–its outside wall is lined with vending machines brimming with snacks. As soon as someone steps out of the tower for a sweet treat, I’ll knock them out and get their card.”
Alice groaned. “That’s a stupid plan.”
“Hey, if Obiwan could shut down the Death Star’s tractor beam himself, anything is possible,” said Marty.
Alice cracked a smile. “I thought you only liked rom-coms?”
Marty sighed. “Star Wars was my dad’s favorite movie.”
Slats scratched something out on a sheet of notebook paper and handed it to Alice. “Alright, while I’m on my way to the tower, you two will follow this map to the cargo hold beside the XS-5. Stay low and move fast. If you see any security cameras along the way, alter your route to get around them. I’ve circled the spots where I think surveillance will be heaviest. If you can’t get around the cameras, break them as a last resort. I’ll pop the doors open as soon as I can.”
“I hope the food in jail is better than the food at school,” said Alice.
“Go Dynamic Three!” said Slats, putting on his ridiculous dome. “Don’t forget to put on your suits and bring along your helmets, girls.”
“Shut up and go,” said Alice. “Dad…wait.”
“Yes?” Slats turned around after hopping out of the van.
Alice hugged her father tight. “Be careful. Don’t hurt anyone too badly.”
“I won’t, don’t worry.” Slats opened his portal and nodded with a wide smile, before hurrying away.
Marty had gone green. “You okay?” asked Alice. “We got this, don’t worry.”
Marty nodded then threw up on the concrete.
Slats took long gorilla strides through the darkness. His eyes locked on the flashing red and yellow lights atop the spires of the control tower. Expecting he wouldn’t make it far, he suddenly found himself just a few feet from the security door. After ducking behind a low concrete wall to catch his breath, he thought of ways to subdue a potential victim. A tried-and-true headbutt will likely suffice.
Slats kept checking his watch in 5-minute intervals, trying to remain patient. Someone has to be coming for those snacks…why else would they be there? While waiting, he remembered he had another matter to address.
A week prior, Slats had hired a private detective to help him acquire the unlisted phone number of Ronald M. Smanton. The number had to work—it was an integral part of his backup plan in case their mission fell apart, which was likely. Slats punched the digits into his flip phone and the call went straight to voicemail. He silently chided himself for not having tested the number sooner.
Slats left a message. “Mr. Smanton, you’ll be wise to answer this number the next time I call. Your stockholders will thank you.”
Burdened by their space suits, Alice and Marty clomped their way through a maze of alley ways and narrow corridors filled with humming conduits and snakes of thick wiring.
“You sure this is right?” whispered Marty, squishing herself through a narrow crack between electrical sheds.
“Yes. Careful, don’t tear your suit!” barked Alice.
Marty grunted. “This wasn’t on the map!”
“We have to get around the cameras, dummy,” replied Alice. “Relax. We’re still heading in the general direction.”
They continued on until the XS-5 loomed over them, its wingspan dwarfing the nearby buildings. “God, it’s huge,” gasped Marty.
“Hello gorgeous,” said Alice. She couldn’t help but smile. “This has to be the cargo bay. See the ramp on the second floor leading to the ship? That’s how we’ll get in.”
“How do we get inside?” asked Marty, crouching near the wall.
“Dad said he’d open the door remotely.”
Slats legs cramped as he maintained his crouch, waiting to spring upon the next person who emerged. Finally, the door swung open.
“Shit,” whispered Slats. A pair of women walked out, filling the air with gossip and obscenities. Slats knew taking out two people was out of the question. Thankfully, a man walked out a few minutes later and lit up a cigarette. He sat on the concrete wall Slats was hiding behind.
“Christ. Pulling an all-nighter for Stanton’s shit show…yeah, fuck him,” said the man. He was talking on his cell phone. “Did you feed Molly? Is she still acting weird?”
Slats knew if he made a move, the person on the other end of the line would be alerted. He rose up a few inches and saw the man’s magnetic pass dangling from his belt loop. It was too perfect of an opportunity to ignore. Without a second thought, he embraced his internal gorilla agility and boosted mental focus to snatch the card.
The badge was hooked more securely than Slats imagined. Instead of liberating the card, he merely tugged on the man’s pants, causing him to turn around. “What the hell?”
Slats grabbed the man’s shoulders and pulled him behind the wall. He snatched the phone and threw it into the tall grass then pushed his opponent to the ground. He had to think fast.
“Oh my god. What are you?” said the man, in shock, looking up at the thick-shouldered orange fiend above him.
Slats tore the pass-card from the man’s stubborn belt loop. “Quiet. I know you. I know where you live. I know how to get to…Molly. If you want to see your precious dog alive again, you’ll do what I say.”
“M…Molly? My cat?”
“Yes, that’s what I said.”
“Please,” begged the man, “don’t do anything—”
“Listen,” interrupted Slats, his deep voice reverberating through the helmet. “You will go home sick. Right now. Call it in to your supervisor. Leave this place and don’t come back until tomorrow.”
“I…I have the day off tomorrow.”
“Don’t come back until…next Tuesday. Understand?”
“Yes! Okay! Don’t hurt my cat!”
“GO!” yelled Slats, a little too loud. The man ran into the darkness. Slats hurried the door, swished the magnetic card against a white brick and went inside the control tower.
“Did you hear that click? The light beside the door went green–I think it’s open!” said Marty with excitement. She had been staring at the windowless entrance for minutes with unblinking eyes.
“Christ, I don’t have cell service here,” said Alice, shaking her phone as if it would help.
Marty was racked with tension. “I think your dad actually pulled it off. We have to go, now!”
Alice scanned the area. “There’s no way around that last camera. They’re going to see us.”
“We’ll rush the door as fast as we can. We’re not that far away.” Marty stood up and started sprinting through a small courtyard lined with shrubs.
“Wait!” yelled Alice, taking off after her. “Shit!”
The door swung open before Marty could reach the handle. She backpedaled and bonked into Alice, sending them both spilling to the ground.
The skinny guard from the final check point came out of the door along with another man in a white lab coat. “See Andrew, I told you these idiots were up to something.”
Marty huddled beside Alice, her heart racing.
“Spacesuits? They sure don’t look like jugglers to me, Pete,” said Andrew, adjusting his glasses. “More like saboteurs.”
“Yeah, no shit. I bet you anything they’re working for Space-X,” said Pete. “But hell, even in those baggy suits they’re still kind of cute. Even the bald one. Where’s daddy?”
Alice seethed and clenched her fists.
“Oh? Quiet, too,” said Pete, slipping his nightstick out of his belt. “You just keeping getting more attractive all the time.” He walked closer, swinging his baton.
“Just call the cops already!” said Andrew. He looked nervous.
“Relax, dweeb,” said Pete. “Just having some fun.”
Marty took off her helmet. “Alice, get your phone camera ready,” she whispered.
“What? Why?” replied Alice.
“As soon as I make my move, start snapping pictures!”
Marty jumped up and ran to the guard at full speed. Before he even knew what was happening, Marty was pushing herself to him, kissing him wildly. Her tongue made a sloppy mess of his face.
“Ew!” gasped Alice, taking rapid-fire photos of the horrific scene.
Andrew stood frozen in shock, watching Marty take Pete’s hand and put it on her breast. After grinding on him a few times, she pushed him over then tackled Andrew. He squealed in horror as Marty licked his face too and shoved her body to him, putting his hands on her ass for a few second before leaping away, gasping. The two men backed against the wall, short of breath.
“What the fuck was that?” said Andrew.
Marty smiled triumphantly then looked at Alice over her shoulder. “Did you get all that on your camera?”
“Yes. Ow, my eyes,” said Alice, her stomach lurching.
Marty stepped closer to the men. “Ha! I’m 16, assholes! If I give the word, my friend here is going to upload all those photos directly to the state police! You two will easily pass for a couple of pervs taking advantage of a poor teenage girl.”
“What?! No way! Not cool!” Andrew wiped his mouth and stumbled.
“Statutory to the max, assholes,” said Alice.
Pete took a step forward. “Hey, don’t do anything stupid!”
“You’re the stupid ones,” said Alice, trying not to gag. “These photos are so disgusting, they’ll get you locked away for years!”
“What the fuck do you want?” growled Pete.
“For both of you to go home. Right now,” said Alice. “If either of you say shit to anyone, you’re both going down.”
“Alright, relax,” said Andrew. “Come on, Pete!”
Pete stood solidly “What? I can’t just leave!”
“It’s not worth it, man…let’s go. Sorry ladies!” said Andrew, nervously.
“Give her your key cards,” said Marty. The men threw them to Alice.
Alice spit on Pete’s shoes. “Go!”
The two men hurried off. When they were out of sight, Marty and Alice rushed into the building using the pass-cards. They leaned against the door once it closed, breathing hard.
“Holy shit, where did that come from?” asked Alice, in shock.
Marty laughed. “I…I don’t know! It just came to me!”
“That was totally gross,” said Alice, “but brilliant.”
Marty gagged a bit. “The guard tasted like Marlboros and sardines.”
Alice pulled Marty’s wrist. “Come on, we’re nearly there! We just need to make it to the ramp on the second floor then wait for dad to pop open the XS-5’s hatch!” The two girls hurried along a winding steel catwalk then took a service elevator to the second floor, oblivious to the security cameras watching them from above.
Slats clomped up the spiral steps of the tower, not wanting to risk being trapped in an elevator. Sweat was pouring in his suit, pooling near his feet. Still, he felt invigorated. The suit’s power was surging through him, leaving his mind clear and sharp. Victory was in reach.
When Slats arrived at the top floor of the tower he lost a smattering of confidence. The command center was completely abandoned. The only illumination inside the cylindrical room came from flashing buttons and readout screens. Something was wrong. They wouldn’t leave every post unmanned so close to launch time.
Lacking options, Slats straightened his posture and calmly strode to one of the terminals. He sat down and scrolled through an on-screen architectural diagram until he located the remote lock systems and started unlatching every door in the complex. Then, the elevator beeped.
As soon as the elevator doors opened, a security team rushed through the control room with assault rifles drawn. Slats quickly located his cell phone and dialed the number of Ronald Smanton, Speartop’s founder and C.E.O. He put the call on speaker.
“Get on the ground!” yelled a guard. He pushed Slats to the floor and yanked off his helmet.
“Hello? Who the hell is this?” said Smanton, through the phone’s tinny speaker.
Slats held tight to the phone as three gun barrels pushed to his head. The men around him were obviously better paid then the others he had bribed. “Mister Smanton, if you want your launch to go off as planned, tell these men to back off! One false move, and I’ll send this entire affair into chaos!”
“Mr. Smanton, is that you?” said the man in charge of the security team.
“Yes, do as he says,” said Smanton, sounding annoyed. “Back off!”
There was no mistaking such a craggy, tobacco-scarred voice. The body armor-clad men backed up. “Better,” said Slats.
“Let’s just talk,” said Smanton. “Everyone calm down.”
“Sir, two more individuals were just intercepted inside the cargo transfer bay,” said the security chief.
“Alice…oh no,” said Slats.
“How many of you are there?” asked Smanton.
Slats sighed. “Just the three of us.”
“What do you want? What did you mean by chaos?”
“Tomorrow’s exhibition of Speartop’s technology to your shareholders is extremely important to the future of the company. You’re a man of vision, but as we both know, vision takes capital. The maiden voyage of the XS-5 will have to be absolutely perfect if you expect to maintain your funding.”
“Arrest this asshole, and the others!” yelled Smanton.
“Wait! Touch me, and I blow up the massive fertilizer bomb sitting outside in my van. My suit is equipped with a remote detonator. The explosion won’t hurt your rocket, but just imagine the headlines tomorrow. You’ll miss your launch window while scrambling to explain how this madness could have happened at your ‘secure’ facility. It will be a publicity nightmare, and your last day as C.E.O.”
“Christ!” said Smanton, his frustration evident.
“Sir, shall we detain him?” asked the security chief, his voice booming.
“No, stand down!” yelled Smanton. “What do your people want? What’s your name?”
“My name is Slats Abernathy. The XS-5 is an unmanned flight, but the space plane was designed to carry people. We’re not terrorists. I simply wish for my daughter and I to be your first passengers. We already have space suits.”
“Oh, so you’re insane,” said Smanton.
“He is sir,” said the security chief. “He’s wearing a bright orange gorilla suit and a fishbowl helmet.”
“What? Like Robot…Robot something? What was that old movie?”
“Robot Monster,” replied Slats.
Smanton chuckled, his rage temporarily tempered. “I used to love that movie as a child. Such cheese. Why on Earth are you dressed like that?”
“It’s a long story. I may be eccentric, but I’m not crazy.”
“Whatever you think you know, it’s not enough,” said Smanton, dismissively. “A supernova in the Pegasus constellation known as IK Pegasi is currently belching mass amounts of cosmic radiation toward our solar system. The XS-5 is filled with scientific equipment to study the cosmic rays inbound for Earth. Because of the unpredictable nature of the radiation, this orbital flight was deemed unsafe for a human pilot. Did you stop to think why the mission was unmanned?”
“I am well aware of the dangers,” said Slats. “We all know the risks. I have to do this.”
Smanton groaned. “I’m not going to send stowaways toward certain death! The cancer risk is incredible.”
Slats smiled. “Sir, I wish I could explain how I know it’s going to be okay, but I can’t. I won’t ask you to trust me, but I assure you, we will be fine. I do appreciate your concern.”
“Fuck concern, I’m simply protecting my company. You’re goddamned delusional,” said Smanton.
“It’s simple. Let us on board, or I blow up the bomb.”
“Bastard,” growled Smanton. “I can only assume you’re not trained astronauts. The strain of leaving orbit may knock you out for the entire trip.”
Slats shook his head. “We’re strong, we’ll be okay.”
Smanton went quiet for a long time.
“Sir?” said the security chief.
“I’m here!” barked Smanton. “Fine, Abernathy. I guess I have little choice. Just know if you die up there, I’ll deny everything. I’ll make sure you never existed!”
“That’s fair,” said Slats.
“Officer Telms, can you hear me?” asked Smanton.
The lead officer straightened. “Yes sir!”
“I’m in the car, en-route to A-Site as we speak. Escort this maniac to the cargo transfer bay and reunite him with his co-conspirators.”
“But sir, they’re criminals! You can’t just let—”
“Don’t be a hero, Telms,” interrupted Smanton. “Just do as I ask. We can’t afford to take any goddamn risks right now. Also, immediately shit-can the subcontractors you hired to man the security gates. What a joke.”
Officer Telms groaned. “Yes, sir.”
“Abernathy, keep your hands clear of that detonator. You get what you want…for now. I’ll meet you at the platform.”
“See you there,” said Slats, hanging up the phone with a smile.
THE WICKED GAMBIT TO CONQUER OUTER SPACE
“Well done, girls,” said Slats, as the door opened to the platform where Alice and Marty had been waiting.
“Dad!” Alice ran up and hugged Slats tight. Marty did the same. Their faces were streaked with tears.
“Did they hurt you?” asked Slats.
“No,” replied Marty, “they were just assholes.”
Five guards strapped with rifles glared at them from the edge of the room, muttering to themselves.
“Well, The Dynamic Three has won the day. Are you ready for launch? Are your suits and helmets still in good shape? No tears?” asked Slats.
Alice stared at her dad with a cocked head. “Yes, they’re fine…but…how? How did you convince them to let us go?”
“I just told them about the bomb in the van. They’d rather wow their shareholders with a glorious hop into space than a series of explosions.”
Alice nodded slowly.
“What bomb?” asked Marty. Alice kicked her in the shin and she went quiet.
Ronald Smanton burst out of the executive elevator in sweatpants and a MOTORHEAD T-shirt. “You must be joking,” he said, shaking his head. He walked up in front of Slats, standing uncomfortably close.
“Business attire sure has changed,” joked Slats, taking off his helmet and putting it under his arm.
“You got me out of bed, asshole,” replied Smanton. “At least I’m not wearing a musty gorilla suit. Where did you get that damn thing?”
“This is Ro-man. The actual monster costume from the movie. I altered it to be a functional space suit and helmet.”
“Well, you’re certainly an impressive madman, Mr. Abernathy.”
“I’m perfectly sane, sir…and you can call me Slats.”
“I’m Mr. Smanton. Slats?”
“I used to run track. Hurdles. The nickname stuck.”
“I don’t care,” groaned Smanton. “Let’s get this over with.” He walked over and looked down at Alice and Marty. “What a shame. Such lovely young women. You do know this man is putting you at incredible risk, right? Did you agree to this terrorist act, or are you hostages? Be honest…I can get you somewhere safe, right now.”
“I want to do this,” said Alice. “He didn’t kidnap us.”
“Let…let’s do this,” said Marty, her voice shaking.
Smanton walked away with a shrug. “You idiots will probably pass out from the g-forces and miss the entire trip. I hope those homemade suits can take the strain.” He approached Slats again and held out his hand. “Now, give me the detonator.”
Slats shook his head. “Only after we’re back safely. And don’t go poking around the van once we’re out of sight–it’s rigged to blow at the slightest jostle. I suggest you provide some bug nets to your security team to intercept wayward moths.”
Smanton screamed into his hands, then stood up straighter and composed himself. He waved a hand and two men in lime-green jump suits hurried beside him. “These fine fellows will escort you inside and strap you into your seats. The launch is in–son of a bitch–approximately two hours. Listen closely, I’m only going to say this once.”
“I’m listening,” said Slats.
Smanton continued. “Stay in your seats until you’re in orbit if you don’t want any broken limbs. Do not touch any of the scientific equipment! You’ll be above the planet for six hours before the space plane begins its descent. Make sure you’re back in your seats for reentry. Once the XS-5 breaches the atmosphere, it will glide back here on auto pilot. If you’re still alive when the craft lands, stay out of sight until one my representatives retrieves you. No one can know you were ever in there.”
“Sounds fine,” said Slats.
“Because you were never here, I’m disabling all communications equipment on the XS-5. There can be no records of your little joy ride. There is no mission control. You’ll be on your own.”
“I can accept that,” said Slats.
“Good,” said Smanton. “Robot Monster, huh?”
Slats laughed. “Yes.”
“Jesus.” Smanton walked toward the elevator. He looked at Slats over his shoulder. “I’m glad we struck a deal, but after all this is said and done, you best watch your hairy orange ass, Slats.”
Slats nodded. “You’ll never see me again, I swear.”
“I’m counting on it,” said Smanton as the elevator closed.
Two SpearTop attendants approached The Dynamic Three to escort them into the XS-5.
“Please, take Alice in first,” said Slats to one of the little men in green.
“Dad? Aren’t you coming?” asked Alice, looking over her shoulder as the hatch to the XS-5 opened and the ramp extended.
“I’ll be in last…just to make sure they don’t try to double-cross us.” He gave Alice a wink and made a button-pressing motion with his thumb.
Alice rolled her eyes. “Fine. Hurry up, though!” Her heart was pounding as she made her way over the ramp.
As soon as Alice was out of sight, Slats turned and put his hands on Marty’s shoulders. “I’m afraid I may have some unwelcome news.”
“What is it?” asked Marty, confused.
“I’m going to have to ask you to stay here. This mission isn’t safe for you. Alice and I are bound for a storm of cosmic rays, but your destiny isn’t the same.”
“So, I’m not going?”
“That’s right, I’m so sorry sweetheart,” said Slats.
Marty hugged Slats tight. “Oh, thank god!”
Slats hugged her back. “There, there…wait…what?”
Marty laughed loudly then took a step backward, wiping her eyes. “I was just trying to be a good friend to Alice! I never really wanted to do any of this! Oh, thank Jesus.”
Slats laughed. “You could have just said something.”
“Take care of her,” said Marty, becoming serious. “Don’t let her get hurt. Promise you’ll come back!”
“I promise,” said Slats, putting his hand on his heart. “I swear I’ll protect her.”
Marty nodded. “We’ll always be The Dynamic Three, even if I’m not quite as dynamic as the rest of you.”
Slats patted Marty’s shoulder. “You’re the most dynamic by far.” He turned to face the attendant. “You there, take this girl down and get her a taxi. Do not detain her. She had nothing to do with this…at all.”
“It’s not up to–”
“Do as I say, or I’ll be back for you.” Slats held up his stolen pass-card. “Just ask Brian Winchel what I did to his dog…I mean, cat.”
“Alright, alright! Jeez,” said the man. “Come on kid, let’s get you clear of this maniac.”
“Bye, Mister Abernathy,” said Marty, waving goodbye as the attendant led her away.
The SpearTop cronies helped Alice and Slats get strapped into two of the 12 seats that would one day be filled with the asses of millionaire thrill-seekers. The two men attached Slats’ and Alice’s helmets and life support systems with robotic efficiency then left without saying a word. The huge pneumatic hatch sealed with a clank behind them.
“Do we really need our helmets on? And these tubes?” asked Alice,
“There’s always a chance of a catastrophic failure during launch and reentry. If all the air gets sucked out of the cabin we could be in real trouble. Three cosmonauts died in 1971 when the Soyuz capsule lost pressure. They weren’t wearing suits or helmets.”
“Oh, lovely,” said Alice, checking her helmet to make sure it was secure. “You swear these costumes of yours are safe?”
“I do,” said Slats. “Ro-man telepathically assured me that—”
“Alright, stop right there,” interrupted Alice, not wanting to hear anything that might jeopardize her faith. She twisted her head back and forth. “Hey, where’s Marty?”
“I sent her home,” replied Slats. “She was too frightened to continue with the mission.”
Alice sighed. “Yeah, I was getting those vibes. I wish you could have seen her with those guards though, she was so brave. Stowing away on an automated shuttle and leaving the planet behind—well—that’s a whole other level of scary. I don’t blame her.”
“Me either.” Slats wasn’t ready to tell Alice the truth about their journey. “Alice…I won’t force you to do this. This is your last chance to leave.”
Alice shook her head. “No way, dad. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and my life is getting shorter by the second.”
Slats smiled, holding back tears. “This is going to be amazing.”
DAUGHTER OF ROBOT MONSTER
The anticipation was horrific. With no onboard communication systems, the pair of miscreant astronauts had nothing to inform them of the impending launch aside from Slat’s analog wrist watch.
Slats peered at his watch. “Any time now. Be ready for—”
Alice gasped, feeling her body compact against the seat. A tremendous roar filled her ears and the world felt as if it were tearing apart. Her eyes vibrated, blurring her vision. “Dad!”
“Hang on! Here we go!” yelled Slats.
Alice screamed as the XS-5s detachable booster sled lifted the plane into the upper atmosphere in mere seconds.
“Oh god oh god oh god,” chanted Alice, her teeth chattering. Her head felt weighted down on one side.
“Doing great sweetie!” hollered Slats.
Alice’s eyes rolled into the back of her head and everything went black.
Alice heard a low whoosh. She opened her eyes and gasped as her helmet lifted away. “No!”
“You passed out, but it’s alright,” reassured Slats, standing over his daughter. “We made it, Alice. Look.” He unstrapped her from the seat and helped her up.
Alice’s heart pounded as she felt her body lift from the chair. Her father took her hand and helped her navigate zero-gravity to the nearest port. She held the edges of the window as her tiptoes bobbed up and down on the steel floor. “My god!” she said, staring out the circular window.
Alice’s was greeted by the sight of the most vibrant blue she had ever seen, streaked with wispy white clouds crawling across the shell of the atmosphere. The curvature of the Earth somehow reminded her of polished glass fishing floats she used to find on the beach.
“I wasn’t ready to see this,” said Slats, his voice shaky.
A tear streaked down Alice’s face as she smiled ear to ear. “Who could be?” She pulled herself away from the view and embraced her father tight, tight enough to register through every layer of his ridiculous suit. “Thank you, dad.”
“You’re welcome,” said Slats, as father and daughter gave into zero-gravity and began to twist and turn throughout the cabin. Slats sent his body spinning top-to-bottom in mid-air and Alice followed suit. The pair experimented with anything not locked down, opening cabinets to send plastic spoons and bagged snacks tumbling and spinning in place.
Alice couldn’t stop laughing. “I wish we had some jello.”
Slats had never seen his daughter so happy. He hoped it wouldn’t be the last time.
Without warning, the XS-5 rumbled. Alice stopped spinning, looking pale. “What’s going on?”
“The automated system is deploying some scientific equipment. Nothing to worry about,” said Slats, looking up. “There’s a separate bay at the rear of the ship. Right now, robotic arms are pushing multi-million-dollar survey equipment into the path of a cosmic storm. We may feel some vibrations.”
“A cosmic storm? Cosmic rays?” asked Alice, becoming ill.
Slats knew Alice was feeling something more than fear. He helped her down to her seat and put a belt over her lap to keep her down. “Alice, there’s something I need to tell you.” He was sick himself—something the suit warned him might happen. It was time.
Alice tried to shake the cobwebs clear in her head. “Dad?”
Slats grabbed Alice’s chair and pulled himself down beside her. “As we speak, we’re being bombarded by radiation birthed by a supernova in a distant galaxy. The atmosphere protects the Earth from the cosmic rays, but up here, we’re fully exposed to them.”
Alice knew exactly what he was referring to, and it wasn’t good. “What? Are you kidding me? The radiation will kill us! Did you know this would happen?”
“Alice, please. I would never–”
“Get away from me!” yelled Alice, shoving against Slat’s orange suit to no avail. She groaned, feeling her head spin.
“Listen, it’s alright. Yes, normally cosmic radiation is utterly unpredictable. Unfiltered and potent. The suit–or whatever entity is possessing it–told me to bring you here. It told me this cosmic storm would deaden your tumor. Kill your cancer.”
Alice began to cry. “You’re insane. Mom was right,” said Alice, finding it difficult to speak.
“It took my oncologist hours of prep time and fittings to focus his gamma knife on my tumor. He compared it to sushi chef trying to cut a fillet from a poisonous fish. One wrong move and everything goes to hell.”
“Fugu. Very deadly,” replied Slats.
“This isn’t funny!” Alice growled. “You expect some swarm of unpredictable cosmic rays to somehow attack and kill my tumor? It makes no sense!”
“The suit comprehends things beyond human understanding,” replied Slats confidently. “It predicted the storm’s path and knew you had to be here. It knows exactly how the rays are hitting your brain.”
“Impossible,” said Alice.
“Faith is always blind,” said Slats, before passing out. Alice lost consciousness moments later.
Alice woke up to the sound of a piercing screech. An alarm. Her head was pounding. “Shit.” She looked beside her, and saw her dad floating near the ceiling, unconscious. “Dad!”
After unstrapping herself, Alice moved quickly to retrieve her father, doing her best to ignore the blaring tone. She put on her father’s lap belt then felt for his pulse, gasping with relief after feeling a steady thump against her fingertips. “Dad, hang on!”
Alice pushed herself toward the console, recoiling at the sight of hundreds of buttons and dials. She pressed a flashing red rectangle and the alarm stopped. One of the screens below her lit up.
WARNING: SYSTEM MALFUNCTION. IMPROPER TRAJECTORY FOR RE-ENTRY DETECTED. AUTOMATED SYSTEMS SUSPENDED. SWITCH TO MANUAL FLIGHT CONTROLS?
Alice touched the screen, over the NO button.
WARNING: REVERTING TO AUTOMATED SYSTEMS WILL RESULT IN CATASTROPHIC FAILURE. PROCEED?
Alice touched NO again, feeling herself sweat.
SWITCH TO MANUAL FLIGHT CONTROLS?
“Fuck!” yelled Alice, feeling the ship start to shake. She tapped YES. Below her, a u-shaped yoke jutted out from a hidden panel and snapped into place. A series of buttons and dials lit up on the console. Pitch. Yaw. Lift. Speed. Angle. Altimeter. It might has well have been in a different language. “I can’t fly this thing!”
Desperate, Alice punched, pounded and pulled everything that looked vaguely like communications equipment. She lowered her mouth to what might have been a microphone and held down four buttons beside it. “HELLO! HELLO! DO YOU READ ME?” There was no response.
“No, please, no,” groaned Alice through gritting teeth. She pounded on the console fruitlessly. “Are you kidding me?”
A muffled buzz pitched up and down beside Alice’s ear. A shiver ran down her spine as she turned around to face the source of the noise. Nothing was there besides her unconscious father.
The buzz coalesced into a whisper, still decidedly in her head. She closed her eyes and concentrated on the sound.
Put me on.
“Holy shit!” chirped Alice, flailing in zero gravity. The voice was nebulous, but understandable.
Put me on.
“I’m losing it,” said Alice aloud. “There’s no way that suit is talking to me.”
Put me on, Alice Abernathy.
In no position to argue with the voices in her head, Alice carefully removed Slats from the monstrous costume. After disrobing from her own suit, she tugged it on to her father, doing her best not to rip the fabric. It was a tight fit, but she finally managed to get the zipper up. After strapping him into his seat, she attached the helmet and life support systems.
“Here goes,” said Alice, holding her breath as she slid herself into the bulky gorilla skin. Even in zero gravity, the suit was so heavy it took an incredible amount of strain just to bend her joints. It took all her strength just to zip the costume back up. Her arms shook as she ratcheted on the repurposed diving helmet. She could barely see through the scratched, tinted glass. A funk that had been building for a half-century invaded her nostrils.
Console. Go. The voice was louder now.
“Alright, delusion. Let’s do this.” Alice started toward the front of the ship with a series of labored hops. She made her way to the yoke and gripped it tightly. “Now what?” she asked, strapping herself down to the seat. Her breath completely fogged her helmet until she managed to attach the oxygen tube.
“What? Am I using the force? What the hell is this?” The XS-5 started to shake violently.
“I can’t relax, you musty simian bastard!”
Touch the console.
Alice closed her eyes and her arms moved against her will. Her hands were possessed, twisting dials and pressing buttons. her fingers felt punctured by pins and needles. She wanted to cry but an unsettling calm had washed over her.
This shall pass.
The ship rattled and creaked as the roar of reentry assaulted Alice’s ears. “Who the hell are you?” she begged, keeping her eyes clamped tight.
THE UNDYING LEGACY OF THE SPACE FIEND
Alice woke up in a cold, white room surrounded by beeping machines. She lifted up on her elbows and realized she was in a hospital bed. She took in a deep breath and grimaced at the sight of an IV tube sticking out of her wrist. Through a window across from her she saw the verdant leaves of an oak tree swaying in the breeze against a blue sky. “I’m alive.”
Alice twisted her neck and saw her father resting in the bed beside her. He was unconscious. “Dad?” She started to get up and the door to their room swung open. A friendly looking man in a bushy mustache stepped inside.
“Miss Abernathy! You’re finally awake,” said the man, his voice throaty and deep. “I’m Doctor Clark.”
“How long have we been here?” asked Alice.
Doctor Clark walked closer and shined a bright light in Alice’s eyes. “Three weeks. How do you feel?”
“A little tired, but fine,” said Alice, squinting. “Hold on…three weeks? Really?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so,” said Doctor Clark. Behind him, Slats sat up with a start.
“Alice!” yelled Slats, his eyes wide.
“Ah, it’s a family reunion,” said Doctor Clark with a grin. “Easy sir, she’s fine. Just, remain calm.”
Slats jumped off the bed, and hugged Alice tight, the IV popping out of his arm. “Oh, thank god.”
Two women wearing scrubs burst into the room. The doctor held up his hand. “It’s alright, really.”
Alice held her father tight. “Dad! I…I can’t remember. What happened?”
“Please, return to your bed, Mr. Abernathy,” said the doctor, his voice becoming stern.
Slats returned to the edge of his bed and sat down with a laugh. “Unbelievable.”
“Someone tipped off the police that a man and women were lying in a ditch near Coquina Bay. They brought you here.”
“Where is here?” asked Slats.
“Wusesthoff Medical Center in Rockledge Florida,” said the doctor.
Slats nodded. “That’s close to Cape Canaveral.”
The doctor looked at clipboard. “Is that where you were heading? We were hoping you two might have some answers for us…if you ever woke up again.”
“I…I don’t remember anything,” lied Slats.
Alice nodded. “Me either.”
“You both were practically glowing when you arrived. Severe radiation poisoning. We stuffed you full of potassium and iodine then spent two full days scrubbing you clean.”
“Damn,” said Alice. She wondered where the suit was. “Was anything else…with us? Where’s our clothes?”
“In lead casks,” replied the doctor. “I hope you weren’t too attached to your outfits.”
“Wait, what did we have on?” asked Slats.
“You were both in t-shirts and sweatpants. Why?”
“Oh, no reason,” said Slats, rubbing his head.
“So, you can’t tell us why you were irradiated? It’s fairly concerning, for obvious reasons.”
Slats felt naked without the suit. Had SpearTop intercepted them after the space plane landed? Were they the ones who dumped them in the swamp? Somehow, he knew Smanton didn’t have the suit.
The doctor stepped closer. “Mister Abernathy?”
There was no choice but to lie. Ro-man would know exactly what to say, but Slats had to make things up as he went along. “We we’re driving along the highway…that’s the last thing I remember.”
Doctor Clark looked at Alice. “Miss?”
Alice nodded. “Yeah, we were just driving,” What the hell happened? she thought.
“Well, the police will be showing up later to interview you. I’m sure they’ll find your answers disappointing,” said Doctor Clark with a sigh. “But, on to other matters. I have some good news and bad news to share.”
“Bad news first…always,” said Alice.
“Fine then. You’ve both absorbed enough radiation to put you at severe risk of cancer.”
“Been there done that, doc,” said Alice.
“You’ll each have to be examined every three months to search for precancerous cells. It could take up to ten years for a tumor to show up, but with thorough testing, you may be able to head this off at the pass.”
“Oh, Dad…I’m so sorry,” said Alice, feeling a tear spill.
“Don’t be. I’ll be just fine,” said Slats with confidence. The Robot Monster had told him Alice would be saved by the storm, which was the only thing that mattered. Ro-man had nothing to say about him, but he knew the price of the trip from the beginning.
Alice shook her head. “Doctor, it doesn’t matter. I’ll be dead in a month from the tumor already lodged in my brain.”
Doctor Clark smiled. “About that…we took the liberty of giving you a series of MRIs while you were unconscious. The results revealed your tumor has shrunk to the size of a pea and is essentially dead. It appears to have stopped growing and there’s no apparent risk of it metastasizing.”
Doctor Clark smiled. “Full remission. Our oncologist was just as stunned as I was.”
Alice jumped up, losing her IV as well. “Oh my god!” she beamed.
“Easy! You’ve been in a coma, remember!” scolded Doctor Clark.
Alice laughed and hurried to her dad, putting her arm around him. “I’ve never felt better.”
“You’re not out of the woods,” said the doctor. “You’ll need those regular checkups, probably for life!”
“I’m okay with that,” said Alice. “I’m just happy life is an option again.”
After a thorough but ultimately pointless grilling from the police as well as the FBI, Slats and Alice were discharged from the hospital with no criminal charges and clean bills of health. They stepped outside the facility into a beautiful sun-drenched day, dressed in blue and white hospital-branded merchandise from the gift shop.
“Dad, this all seems like a dream,” said Alice.
Slats shook his head. “I assure you, we’re awake.”
“You passed out up there. I put on the costume and it guided me back to Earth. At least, I think that’s what happened.”
“I’m so proud of you,” said Slats.
“The suit…I heard it whispering to me. What was inside that thing? Please, you have to know something.”
Slats sighed. “It was a grand intelligence willing to share its incredible prowess with a chosen few. I know nothing more.”
“Was it an angel? Demon? Ghost? Was it God?” asked Alice. “I don’t even believe in…well…any of those things.”
“It doesn’t really matter.”
Alice rubbed her bald head, feeling her familiar scar. “Do you think SpearTop has the suit now?”
“I don’t think so,” replied Slats. “The last thing the suit told me was that Ro-man had other pressing matters to attend to, perhaps in not so many words.”
“I’m alive. I don’t care if I’ve gone crazy.”
“Embrace it, sweetheart,” said Slats.
A familiar brown sedan pulled up next to the curb. “What’s up, butternut?!” yelled Marty from the passenger seat. Pauline was behind the wheel.
“Marty! Mom!” yelled Alice, rushing to the car.
Pauline bolted from her door and threw her arms around her daughter, weeping. “Alice! Are you alright?”
Alice grinned. “Better than alright, Mom.”
Alice peered up at Slats. “I still don’t know if I should charge you with kidnapping or kiss you. Is it really true? The tumor…it’s gone? I couldn’t believe what the hospital’s oncologist was telling me.”
“Yes, it’s completely gone,” replied Slats.
Pauline was stunned. “How? What did you do?”
“I’ve been trying to tell you, Pauline!” said Marty jumping in place. “A magical gorilla suit took them to outer space, then…wait…I don’t really know what happened after that.”
“What did you just say?” Pauline’s eyes were peeled wide.
“Marty, you’re not helping,” groaned Alice.
EPILOGUE: REVENGE OF ROBOT MONSTER
“Hurry up, Steven! You’re going to be late for soccer practice,” yelled Martha Kemp, glaring at her son from the safety of her car. “I don’t know why you force me to stop at all these stupid yard sales.”
“I’ll just be a minute!” replied Steven, bounding on bow legs toward blankets full of knickknacks and cardboard boxes stuffed with dusty treasures. He was always on the hunt for baseball cards or comic books.
After perusing the sale for a bit, Steven looked up to the porch of the battered ranch house and waved to an old man sitting in a plastic chair. “Sir, do you have any comics? Trading cards?”
The man shook his head. “Nope. Do you like space stuff?”
“Yeah!” said Steven.
The man pointed to the edge of the yard. “I found that alien costume in an alley a few weeks back. Some kind of space gorilla. It looks to be about your size. Take it if you want, I got no use for the damn thing.”
Steven ran up to the suit and lifted it by the shoulders. “Wow, neat! It’s heavy.”
“Helmet goes with it,” said the man.
Steven picked up the helmet and put it on, scanning the suburbs through the hazy port hole. “Cool.”
Steven gasped. “What?”
“I didn’t say nothing,” complained the old man.
Go to Fort Knox. Kentucky.
“Who’s said that?” Steven took off the helmet and examined it. He turned to the old man again. “Does this thing have a radio in it?”
The old man shrugged and put a wad of chewing tobacco under his lip.
“HURRY UP!” screamed Martha, firing up her engine.
The disembodied voice between Seven’s ears returned. A cosmic anomaly lies beneath the vaults of Fort Knox. Together, we will uncover the secret.
Steven put on the suit without questioning why. He felt a strange and electrifying power surge through his entire body.
Run boy, adventure awaits.
– THE END? –
Disclaimer: Although this story contains elements of the 1953 film “Robot Monster,” it is intended as a transformative work/parody and is protected by copyright.