By Phaedra Mintun
Scottie stayed low to the ground, watching in horror as the goliath stomped toward the door to the laboratory. Seeing the back of the machine for the first time, Scottie understood the indentations he had seen in the padding of the empty crates. Most of the robot was made of thick brass plates designed similar to armor. Burrowed into the metal, at the shoulders and the center of the back, were three scarab beetles. Each beetle was roughly eight inches across, the shelled bodies were made of fresh, shiny copper. Their delicate legs were folded, and latched into holdings on the robot's back. Scottie pushed himself to his feet. "Oscar, are you hurt?"
The robot swiveled, directing the gaping holes of its heavy artillery at Scottie's chest. Oscar's muffled voice came from behind the shield. "Not hurt! Didier's notes mentioned a beacon. It should take me there. If they have Didier we ca-" Scottie dropped flat to the ground as a web of blue light burst from the robot's guns and seared the wall behind him. His hair stood on end and several of the diagrams pinned to the wall burst into flame.
Scottie lay flat, playing dead. If Oscar wasn't being hurt, then the best plan was to follow it from a safe distance and hope that it would lead them to Didier. The construct turned away and marched out of the laboratory, sweeping its arm of doom back and forth defensively in front of it.
Scottie stayed on the floor desperately trying to think of a way to alert the rest of the crew. He heard a loud whirring, followed by Dylan's voice, "Didn't we meet in Cheshire?" There was a huge fizzling pop, accompanied by a girlish yelp. Scottie's heart skipped a beat, but then Dylan's voice continued, "I thought your dog pissing on me leg was rude, but you've topped it this time!"
Scottie shook his head in relief. He heard the robot's heavy footsteps continue out of the house. He waited a few more seconds and ran to check on his comrades. Dylan and Edwin were both lying face down in the hallway. As Scottie dropped down between them, Edwin raised his freckled face. His bright red hair stood out from his head, giving him a striking resemblance to a flaming hedgehog. "Who invited sparky-sparky-boom-man to the chalet?"
Dylan's identically static-mussed head lifted. "He looked exactly like this chap I met in Cheshire, except for the being made of metal, and the bit with the lightning." Dylan rolled onto his back and Scottie started in surprise. Dylan's shirt was badly burnt and his chest was blistered in a strange webbed pattern.
Scottie's mouth dropped open. "He shot you?"
Dylan looked down at his damaged chest and shrugged. "'Sall right, I'm a balloonman, natural immunity to lighting. Rude, though. Last time I got shot, at least the bloke had a good reason."
Edwin looked at his brother thoughtfully. "Was that when you got caught with Paul McHaily's sister or Igor's donkey?"
Before Dylan could answer, Cook burst into the hallway. "What in hell happened in here?"
Scottie stood up so he could see down the hall and out the open door. The robot was no longer in view. He rushed to explain the situation to Cook. "Didier was working on some sort of mechanical warrior. Three of them were missing, and one took Oscar."
Cook looked confused. "Didier's inventions destroyed the chalet?"
Scottie blinked a couple of times. "No, that was mostly the goats. Oscar said these contraptions were designed to respond to a beacon. Didier must have set it off somewhere close by. One of them got Oscar, and we think where ever it's taking him is where they have Didier."
Cook nodded. "We better get to trackin' then."
Everyone gathered on the porch. The three dogs sat close to S'more. Decima looked thin and tired, but was no longer showing signs of her earlier fit. Cook walked through the yard, looking for signs of the robot. He joined them on the porch, scanning the woods at the edge of the yard. "It shouldn' be hard to track a big metal man through the forest. It looks like 'e probably followed that path on the left."
"That makes sense. That path leads to a forge Didier uses for the larger metal work, and testin' explosives," Scottie confirmed. "Seems like he would have put the beacon there if he was testing it." Scottie was comforted, knowing that they hadn't lost much by letting Oscar's abductor get away.
They decided to split into two groups, one to stay at the house and one to follow Oscar's captor. Scottie joined Cook, Rick, Finn, and S'more on the path through the forest. S'more had gathered a small army's worth of weaponry from the house. Scottie recognized a few of the pieces from the lab. There was no telling whether any of the things they had gathered were loaded, functioning, or even intended to be used in combat.
The path was shady and quiet, signs of spring were everywhere, and the pangs of dread Scottie was experiencing seemed at odds with the birdsong, the happy hum of insects, the fresh scent of new grass, and the damp earthy smell of the path. Scottie watched the soft dirt on the path as they went. The path was well worn and although the recent footprints of the robot they were tracking were clear, Scottie could also make out older prints, going toward the forge and back toward the house. It was clear that Didier had marched his colossal constructs back and forth along this path multiple times. What had gone wrong?
The path curved up and to the right. Scottie motioned for everyone to stop. Keeping his voice low, he explained, "Just around here, we will be in sight of the forge." Scottie was the only one in the group that had seen the robots. S'more had been in the kitchen, and Rick, Finn, and Cook had been in the barn, feeding the goats that they had managed to corral. "Everybody have your weapons ready. Try not to get hit with lightening."
Keeping close to the bushes, the group skulked nearer. The small clearing surrounding the forge opened up before them. The forge faced them on the opposite side of the field, its large doors locked shut. To their right, running close to the building, flowed the small creek that emptied into Cog Pond. A large water wheel attached to the forge groaned and splashed, as the creek's current kept it turning. Between them and the forge paced four of the sentinels. They were identical to the machine that had sprung to life in the laboratory and captured Oscar. They were moving through a series of drills, guarding the perimeter of the clearing. Scottie noticed with surprise that they each had three hollow divots in their backs where the scarabs had been. That was explained by the main feature of interest in the center of the field.
The scarabs had descended from the backs of their hosts and formed a large circle. Each of the small metal creatures was connected to his neighbor by a thin pole extending from its side. Rising up like a domed web was a wall of crackling blue light. Inside sat Oscar and an emaciated Didier.
Rick shook his head in amazement. "Didier certainly outdid himself with these!"
Cook gave him a nasty look. "Aye, looks like he outdid us in the process."
S'more huffed and hefted an impressive display of artillery onto his shoulder. S'more's weapon of choice was a fearsome shoulder mounted blaster linked to a board covered in a heavy configuration of tubing, blown glass, and clockwork that moved through some ominously shielded boxes. S'more had managed to strap the board to his back.
The rest of the crew shrugged and prepared to follow S'more. By the looks of Didier, they didn't have much time to save him. A frontal attack was as good a place as any to start. Scottie braced what he hoped was a massively destructive projectile weapon against his shoulder and took a deep breath. S'more let out a thundering battle cry and charged the nearest guard. The rest of them spread out in his wake. S'more squeezed the lever on his gun. Nothing happened. Keeping the momentum of his charge he gave it a ferocious shake and tried again. Nothing. Growing ever closer, S'more raised the long snout of his blaster and swung it at his target. A jarring clang echoed around them.
Scottie ran right. The air in the meadow was static charged, his hair prickled, and the air he pulled into his lungs as he charged had a stale, flat scent. The hulking automaton shifted to face him. Scottie heard the whir of the lightning gun preparing to fire and pulled his trigger. The machine in his hands produced an explosion of noise, kicking back with so much force that Scottie was knocked to the ground. So much smoke poured forth from the tip that Scottie wasn't even sure if it had fired anything. He coughed trying to get the powdery pollution out of his lungs. The smoke flashed as his adversary fired into the cloud. Scottie scurried backward.
On the opposite side of the field, Scottie witnessed a strange scene. S'more was in a tight embrace with his guard. The robot was straining to close its shield over the Samoan's excessive mass. S'more was bludgeoning it with the long barrel of his weapon. He had wrapped his stubby leg behind it's knee and was thrusting into it trying to force the joint to crumple.
Rick was performing some impressive dodging as he was pursued by his attacker. His weapon was laying in a blackened heap, near a large pile of foaming orange goo. At its edge, their fourth foe seemed to be working to get free of the sticky sludge. Scottie scurried farther back, hiding himself in the underbrush at the edges of the clearing, looking for a way to help his friends.
Scottie scanned the clearing again. He couldn't find Cook. He wondered if Cook's weapon had also failed and he was hiding somewhere along the edge, too. He located Finn, who had used the distraction of the others to creep closer to the electric prison. Finn kicked at one of the scarabs, trying to knock it loose from the ring. The air split as a shrill wail filled the clearing. Scottie slapped his hands over his ears, trying to protect himself from the sound as it bored like an mad marmot through his senses. All of the brass men spun toward the center. S'more was released as his attempted captor moved toward the prison.
Finn stood and shouted, "They are just gonna throw me inside! They only go after people! Bring food and water! Run while they are distracted!" The group of constructs converged on him. Rick and S'more both ran for the mound of goo and jammed their arms into it. Scottie bolted across the field to them. "We have to get out of here!"
Rick and S'more both gave a herculean yank. An arm like a hank of beef burst free of the bubbling slime. Recognition registered in Scottie's mind and he grabbed hold and helped them pull Cook free. Cook came up sputtering, his salisbury steak of a face clotted with orange globs. Scottie cut off the tirade that he was sure would spew forth as soon as Cook had his breath back. "We have to go!"
They got Cook to his feet and the five of them sprinted down the path.