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"Orphan Train"

Images and text COPYRIGHT 2004 TED BALDWIN

Somewhere in the last third of the tale:

- Chapter 47 -

Meribeth and Poly had come to an icy impasse- Ahead of them lay the surest route to Meribeth's teddy bear, but in the immediate foreground was a clear sheet of ice covering an enormous hole in the tunnel floor. Above them, glowing bright blue in the darkness, the outline of the plasma river could be seen, swirling around the ceiling. This had been some sort of air shaft in the dim past, but a plug of crystal debris and ice filled the hole above, just like the one below.

Unless you looked, you wouldn't notice.

Meribeth was looking at everything now. Poly threw a rock and it came to a noisy, sliding halt just beyond the center of the plug, then it fell as a crack opened up in the floor. It did not look promising. The plug was very big, wider than the saucer, so Poly would not be able to stretch over it. Behind them was the army of the Earth, and they knew what fate awaited them in the Government's hands.

Meribeth thought of her mother, and the little bear she had given her. She then remembered the bright flash and explosion - her mother's car falling from the sky. She lowered her eyes, then looked at Poly with grim determination. "I want my bear." They looked at each other, then at the hole, and started slowly to cross the creaking mass. Hugging the walls, they inched across the chasm, while small pieces of rock and ice fell into the darkness. Before they knew it, they were on the far side of danger.

Meribeth heard a noise behind her - a slight whirring sound filling the chamber, echoing off the sheer pink walls, seeming to come from everywhere.. Slowly she turned and saw the blunt edge of the saucer hovering a few yards from her. She froze instinctually - a swollen lump of fear rising in her throat . Casually, almost carelessly, Vic stepped through the portal onto the edge of the saucer, the ray gun in his hand - pointed straight at her.

The evil robot stepped up behind him, glowing a menacing dark crimson in the eerie light of the tunnel. "Apprehend her!" Rektor hissed. Vic got right to the edge of the saucer. "Come here you!" he growled.

"To heck with you". Meribeth snarled furiously. "You make me!" Rektor was a brighter red. "Get her NOW. We are running out of time."

Vic blasted the crystals on the tunnel wall next to Meribeth. Meribeth fell back and Vic smiled as he pointed the pistol back at her.

Suddenly a little pink rock flew across the void and hit Vic right on the side of the head. "Ow!" was about all he had time to say before he fell off the edge of the saucer to the tunnel floor. The ray gun clattered off of the slick crystalline surface to Meribeth. Vic didn't look down, but he was on thin ice.

Rektor was furious. "You stupid organics are trying my patience. Come up here now!"

Meribeth walked up to the ray gun and grabbed it.

"HEY!" Vic shouted.

Rektor readied himself to jump off the edge of the saucer. He pulled himself up short when he saw the pistol.

"You know what?" Meribeth eyed them as coldly as a nine year old could. "I've had it with both of you. Get back on your thing and get out of here."

Rektor started to make his little noise like gears grinding. Under control for the moment, it was going to be bad when he finally let loose.

Vic scrambled up and lunged at her. Her first shot went wild, under the saucer, a violent purple blue spasm of raw naked energy - and the ice bridge gave it up. It completely dissolved, and the whole plug fell down into the depths of blackness. Her second shot was on target, but Vic was faster, falling backwards however, over the edge of the pit. The blast took out the retaining wall on the other side of the ship. Vic's fingertips could be seen slowly creeping away from the edge. Beneath him, the debris had fallen out of sight to the bottom of the bright pink hole. Uttering an oath, he lost his grip, and fell silently to his death, yet some 20 minutes away.

Rektor, momentarily distracted by Vic's sudden disappearance, realized she was still aiming at him. He turned, just as Meribeth sat back on her haunches and let another blast go from the gun. Rektor fell back from the force of the rays into the portal of the saucer, then the entire ceiling of the tunnel came down on top of it, jagged crystals and ice rushing down to smash the Robot and his ship to oblivion.

They went the only way they could - down, disappearing into the hole beneath them, right on top of malevolent little Vic. The whole plasma river was now falling through the ceiling, following the robot and his saucer, as Meribeth and Poly ran up the sides of the depression surrounding the bottomless pit. The plasma tried in vain to reach them, a deadly, freezing slush that lapped at their heels and splashed on their tempersuits. With the mad machine and his organotron falling into hell, surely this was the end of their troubles.

As Vic fell, face first, a few seconds ahead of the saucer, he wondered about his impending death. The smooth pink glass walls of the downshaft were becoming increasingly dark. He angled his body to the right and flew off into the wall, at about 120 miles an hour. The ricochet propelled him off the wall and onto the other side. "OW". He yelled this over and over for a mile or so before he got it under control

It was suddenly much darker, and Vic was sure he was near the bottom. Before he realized it, he was dead. And in that moment of death, he imagined was back inside the saucer, still falling, still without gravity. Still looking at the damnable machine that brought him to this place, chasing this God-forsaken little girl for some penny ante reward, and the robot was still barking orders at him - "Wake up you fool."

Hell was not going to be fun.

Rektor, at the same moment the second blast hit him, fell back into the cockpit of the saucer and pulled down on the grabstik. The saucer, in free fall, was only a few feet ahead of the mass of crystals. In the few minutes he had to survey the situation, he exited back through the portal and walked to the edge of the saucer, looking up at the mass overhead, the whole kit and caboodle falling together. He could not see Vic, but knew he was there somewhere beneath him. To get control, he'd have to flip the saucer over, but he didn't want to get caught up in the cold, falling plasma.

Though it wouldn't hurt him, the ship was not strong enough to survive the cold and the brittle crash at the bottom of wherever this was leading, and he thought he still might need transportation.

Somewhere in his head, a relay clicked. It was a small click, because the relay was a quantum mechanical computing element roughly the size of three germanium isotopes and some beryllium atoms.

The shaft seemed familiar to him, but it was from a long time ago, a very long time ago. He pushed up on the nearest crystal, effectively moving the ship down faster. As soon as he had enough clearance, he went back inside and rolled the ship.

Now upside down, he pushed up on the drivstik and accelerated away from the mass of debris and towards Vic, who was plainly in sight. Rektor thought this was the way it would happen, and slowly rotated the saucer until the portal was over Vic, accelerating enough to pass him - thereby bringing him into the ship. He was dazed or something, but Rektor had no time to coddle this organotron - "Wake up you fool!"....

- Chapter 47 -

The gate to the outpost.

- Chapter 48 -

....The saucer had come to rest like a drain stopper plugging the entrance to an enormous cavern. Vic lay nearly insensible at the bottom of the cabin, his head bleeding from the force of the impact. How long he had been out he couldn't say, but the blood had dried his hair to the floor. He felt a chill draft waft in over the open portal in the ship, and gurgling sounds suffused through the interior of the small cabin - his first thought was they were sinking. On the control deck, the absorber lights were showing red one after another. Vic couldn't imagine where they were picking up energy from. The plasma in the lake was too impure, and the collector too small to be effective. There it was. More power than they could ever use, at least in his lifetime. He wondered what would happen when the dials all were red.

Vic rose, and got his legs under him, steadying himself on the console. He knew the ship was in bad shape if the artigrab was off, He forced his way into the lower deck, to see if Rektor was there - he was not. He picked up the spare pistol from the wall, now the floor, and touched the bottom of the ship He felt the cold burn into his hand. He peered at the bottom of the hull, and listened. There were a few creaks and groans, as the plasma forced itself around the hull, the cold chilling the great saucer, causing the seams to contract and become more brittle.

Radiating from the hole were giant ribs, and in the near darkness the outline of a giant crystal engine was pointed directly at the entrance. Scorch marks radiated away from the hole, and the crystal behemoth, immense, warped, sat looking at Vic with malice aforethought. The catwalk stretched away deep into the black cold void. Vic looked walked over to the edge. The sea of plasma that they rode to this final resting place was leaking around the edge of the ship, squirting into the air in high luminescent arcs and cascading down into the abyss. There was no sound from the bottom of the blackness, which he thought was odd.

Rektor continued on his way down the long arched pathway, full of the bad feeling he had been here before. Maybe it was just echoes of dim memories, staining the pathways and angles of his complex structure. He made a note, like so many others he had made, to reach home and download the past few thousand years into his storage reservoir. The thought of the huge white memory cubes taking up ever more space clouded his thought process - it must end someday. But when? When the universe and he had grown so old together neither could remember the beginning? Maybe he belonged in another universe altogether Maybe he'd scan the cordex and see if there was any direct reference to this origin-forsaken world. - Such were the thoughts between the thoughts of a billionth of a second between footsteps.

Rektor no longer mused about the disparity between his mental ability and the physical limitation of the physics of motion. There were simply some things one could do nothing about. He made another note to switch to classical thought mechanics - there simply was not enough new information here to justify quantum calculations, and he hated doing things over and over. Routine was not his strength - too impatient. Vic on the other hand wanted less and less of this strange cavity. He shouted into the dark, but no noise came back It was deathly quiet. The vibrations from his yells simply went their own way. Rektor heard Vic's yells, and paid him no heed. He did note the absence of echoes, which gave hum further pause- The energy had to be going somewhere. This too was disturbing. What could be so energy hungry it would use the minuscule vibrations of the air? A small relay clicked beneath him, and he stopped, stepping to the edge of the walkway and looking down. Rektor's flare swept the reaches of the black abyss, and he froze on the site below him. There were the massed carcasses of tens of thousands of units like himself, black and gray in color.

Rektor waited for a long minute, half expecting some deathly surge of energy to break from the masses below and find his weak spot, ending his long solitude, his lonely life.

Vic now looked to the bottom of the abyss and the thousands of robotic carcasses, splayed in a heap in their last quest for energy, scouring energy from gravity itself. Now all was still. The blackness flowed around the inert forms, sucking in the light from Vic's flare. How far down the hulks went he couldn't see, and by what mechanism they transferred and transformed the energy of his flare was unknown and forever unknowable to him.. It could be a mile or ten miles to the bottom, the number of these dead yet foreboding machines uncountable. Vic felt the chill go through him again. An unnerving, morbid sense of emptiness ate away at his soul. "REKTOR!!!!" he shouted, but no sound came back. He thought he heard a footstep, and wheeled around. Nothing. He was definitely getting the creeps. He looked over the edge again. A sudden flash startled him, making him think he saw something move. "Damn!". He waited, but nothing moved. He played his light slowly, then quickly, and saw the flash again, light coursing off a perfect reflector, coupled to a perfect conductor. Vic couldn't know it, couldn't see it, wouldn't accept it if he did, but something was happening.

Inside each of the topmost hulks, light rays entered and found receptors, harboring the energy, adding it to the stores. Uncounted millennia passed, without a single photon free - now the famine was over. It was not enough to power anything yet, but food was on hand, and something knew it.

Back at the doorway, the ship had had enough. Suddenly the power plant collapsed under the strain of the excess energy. With an anguished roar, the power cells let loose the accumulated plasma, exploding with the light of a small sun. The brittle hulk of the ship was fragmented, and the pieces of the ship's cabin and control were flung the length of the cavern, raining down on Vic and Rektor - but the noise was muffled.

The once dormant energy nets, designed to sense any change in the surroundings and evaluate it for food, captured the violence of the explosion and repurposed it effortlessly. With the ship gone, nothing was left to hold back the torrent of plasma that had pinned Rektor's ship against the portal. Millions of gallons of high-test poured into the abyss every second - enough to power every dead thing here for a thousand thousand years.

At the moment of the explosion, Vic and Rektor had climbed to another level. The light from the ship's death laid bare a stark scene before them. Arrayed in perfect formation were thousands - no millions -of Rektors in black and gray, a thousand or two wide and tens of thousands deep. Their armor was complete, and they were a little taller than Rektor.

Receding into the distance above them was an even stranger site. Five cylindrical rows of saucers stood on end, countless ships, new, with razor sharp edges and sleek, fat, black hulls. A giant arm had stopped midway in the task of replacing one of the ships, looking all the world like a record changer in a jukebox - a record changer 100 stories tall. Vic estimated there were 50 thousand of these saucers on the first carousel alone, and the carousels disappeared into the black above them.

As the light from the vaporized ship faded, a warmish glow began to fill the space - an orange-yellow glow snaking its way along the bottom of the cavern. The plasma was no longer blue.

Rektor turned to Vic and spoke to him for the first time since they arrived in this man-forsaken outpost. "We have about thirty of your minutes".

That was all he said, as he turned and walked toward the closest saucer. Vic watched the plasma wend its way along the channels for a long second, the glow and shadows playing on his features, then ran after Rektor.

Rektor called Vic over to the edge of the ship. It was exactly the same model as Rektor's old ship, but it was pristine, totally new. "I need to show you this." Rektor took one of the stainless obdinum ribs lying on the floor and touched it to the knife edge of the ship. It cut it like butter...

Ted is developing 3-D storyboards from his original screenplay for "Orphan Train", a sci-fi epic set in a future where machines have overrun humans, and a small girl goes into deep space to battle robots, armies and aliens to retrieve her only posession.

"Orphan Train" is written as live action, with animated support to tell the visual story in a completely realistic setting.

Like "The Matrix", or "Lord Of The Rings", this film is to be seamless between reality and imagination.

The machine at the refueling depot.

The saucer overheatst.

Chapter 47. The Machine at the outpost gate.

Central to the developement of any story by Ted Baldwin is the Hero Myth cycle, here adapted from Joseph Campbell's ideas.
This is the structure that supports the ideas pushing the story forward, and maximizing audience interest. It is the one familiar link to the fantastic tale ufolding.
Mr. Baldwin, CEO and Chief Creative Officer of 3rd Coast Digital Films, Inc., is available to speak on a wide variety of topics, including but not limited to screenwriting, animation, production, direction, and digital media. 225.413.6051