Previously: “We were in the heart of the Twisted Forests searching for EON-5. After a brief stop in a ruined family home - where I had discovered that Lady Una was half-human, half-war machine - it was time to press on and find our goal. We had heard reference to an 'Iron Queen' in the area. Could this be who - or what - we were looking for?”
Part 12: Kidnapped
“It's a shame,” Major Thurlow was saying as Lady Una and I stepped outside. “We know the old bastard left this place to go hunting. There must be a way to get past these turrets without disabling them completely.”
“I'm afraid I can't see how,” EON-4 said. “The Academy modified me to allow interfaces with advanced information processors, and these turrets are rather... simple.”
“Perhaps he just turned them off,” Lady Una said. “The forest dwellers may have learned to fear the turrets, with no understanding of when they might not be a danger. Or perhaps the old man did his hunting when the rest of the family was around to turn the turrets on and off when needed. But honestly, it doesn't matter. We're not planning on moving in to this place. We have to find EON-5.”
As she spoke, the others gave Lady Una and me some strange looks, taking in her change of clothes. If Una noticed, she just ignored them.
“All the same,” Thurlow said, “when we deactivate these things we should at least consider taking a machinegun or two with us.”
Lady Una studied the nearest turret as it swivelled its reflector at the surrounding foliage. “As a military man, can you tell me Major, would you prefer to move quickly, or be bogged down with heavy weapons?”
He grimaced. “In this situation, milady, I can't say that either course of action grabs me. But you're right. I'd sooner be able to get out of a bad situation than try and follow it through to its conclusion.”
Sigrid stood up straight and unslung her rifle. “But those things know just where we are. We're not going to get far before we have to fight.”
EON-4 placed a steel hand on the breast of his suit. “I strongly feel that our best chance for success is to reach EON-5 as soon as possible and attempt to exchange information. If, as EON-2 claimed, EON-5 is still operational, than it must have found some way of surviving in this environment.”
I sighed. “The old man mentioned that the forest dwellers had an 'Iron Queen'. I'm not sure I like the implications of that. We may find that EON-5 isn't actually on our side.”
We all looked at Sigrid as she sparked up a match and lit a cigarette. “Or maybe,” she said, “the Major here just precipitated a small misunderstanding when he plugged the first freak he saw. We haven't exactly given these forest creatures much of a chance to engage with us in a peaceful fashion.”
Thurlow spoke through clenched teeth. “The riflewoman may have a point. But I'm not about to lay down arms any time soon. Maybe we didn't have to be in conflict with a bunch of sub-human degenerates, but the simple fact of the matter is that we are. If EON-5 is really in charge of them, then we can take it up with 'her'. If we can't even convince the thing not to kill us, then we'll have a tough time getting it to divulge the secrets of the Sky Spiders.”
“Let's just get moving,” Lady Una interrupted. “All of this talk is meaningless if we don't at least try and reach EON-5.”
“We need to head roughly south-southwest,” I said, “unless I've completely lost my bearings.”
“That seems about right, doctor,” EON-4 concurred.
“If it was up to me,” Thurlow chipped in, “I'd like to check out the source of that factory siren.”
“Well, Major,” Lady Una said, “we only know that the factory is related to the forest dwellers, who may or may not be related to EON-5. On the other hand, we have a definite link between EON-5 and the Sky Spider installation. We know, in fact, that EON-5 was present at this installation five years ago.”
Thurlow bowed slightly. “Certainly, milady.”
She drew her automatic pistol and turned to me. “Stay close, doctor. As Miss Phenice said, I don't imagine we'll get far before we run into trouble.”
Thurlow met my eye and winked, tweaking one end of his moustache.
I checked my revolver in its holster. “Yes,” I answered gruffly, “milady.”
Sigrid nodded at EON-4. “Do it.”
The android looked around briefly with its single circular eye, then yanked something on the bottom of the tall, slender turret. The reflector at the top folded up gracefully and the barrel of its machinegun sagged in its cradle.
We stepped forward, across the band of black, ruined earth surrounding the house, and into the strange, intertwined foliage of the Twisted Forests - the long, afternoon shadows of alien trees plunging us into darkness.
No sooner had strangely-coloured, asymmetrical leaves come between us and the sun, then slender, long-limbed forms dropped down on us from above. The others crouched to their knees, aiming down the barrels of their weapons. I tried to follow suit, but strangely, gravity didn't seem to want to co-operate, and I remained standing.
I only just noticed the long, hairy arms wrapped around me from behind, when I was hoisted rapidly into the forest canopy. Lady Una flung out a gloved hand to grab at me. She succeeded only in depriving me of my right shoe.
Leaves and branches whipped into me at speed as I was rushed through the forest by abductors who showed unbelievable agility. Their tight grip kept me from drawing my revolver, while behind me I heard the gunshots of my companions fighting for their lives.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Next week: In the heart of the forest dweller's meagre civilisation, Peregrine meets the Iron Queen. Who is she? And what does she know? Check back in a week's time for the next instalment of Into the Mind of the Sky Spiders!