Meanwhile Part 5
The Peewee, caught somewhere in its twisted metal brain between a film noir detective and a lonely castaway, trooped mournfully ahead of them. It was closely followed by the two Skutters who were taking it in turns to circle round each other, their lights moving around the supply deck and making the shadows leap and dance menacingly around the little group. Parkur tried to twist his body left and right, straining to cover as much of the surrounding environment as possible with his optical sensors and the wavering muzzle of the dreaded bazookoid. It was difficult, what with the jumping light from the Skutters and not actually wanting to point it at anything. Eventually Parkur resolved to keep his eyes straight ahead, making little nervous circles with the bazookoid. If he concentrated hard he could ignore the terrifying feeling around him that many hideous and terrible things were lurking in the cargo stacks waiting to pounce. 'Woowee, this place is really dark and spooky isn't it?' The Teasmade's tinny voice was suddenly very strident in the dark. In surprise Parkur dropped the Bazookoid which went off again, bringing down a stack of instant coffee jars with a relentless crash. The Skutters regarded the mechanoid with desultory glares that sent his embarrassment chip into overload, Parkur picked up the gun and continued after them. 'Wow,' keened the Teasmade, 'that must have been really embarrassing. Have you always been this clumsy? It must make life really difficult. Then again, I suppose you don't need to be much of a dextrous acrobat if your main job is cleaning toilets, hmm?' Parkur had long ago given up speaking to the Teasmade. It only had one setting: happy, which it enjoyed permanently and constantly at full power. The problem was, it seemed to draw its positive emotion by leeching it from the surrounding area. Parkur couldn't remember the last time he felt so miserable. The closest he'd been was that time, several years ago, when he'd actually finished the washing up an hour early during his shift at the restaurant on B-Deck. For a horrible sixty-minutes he had been without anything to clean. Parkur shuddered at the memory and ploughed onwards. 'They didn't realise,' the Peewee said suddenly, 'that their quest was already doomed to failure. Poor souls, flailing for meaning in this chaotic, nightmare world.' 'What do you mean: doomed to failure?' Parkur asked the Peewee. 'Too late they sought assurances, but I could give them none. I wanted to keep the darkness to myself, shroud it in the husk of my soul-less body, but knew I would have to share the terrible truth soon,' the Peewee stopped, turned and sighed deeply. 'To pass through the underbelly of the Dwarf they would have to first gain the blessing and permission of the Tribe. Few who met the tribe had ever returned in their original form or mind.' 'Oh my,' Parkur exclaimed, 'this Tribe... who are they?' 'All too soon, the truth and the horror would be revealed to these strange creatures. Until then, it would have to brood in their minds,' the PeeWee continued onwards. 'That sounds scary,' the Teasmade observed, 'I can't wait to meet them. I'll bet they like tea. Everybody loves tea, even scary Tribe things.' Parkur wondered if the Tribe would be appeased by the sacrifice of a lesser being, something with an alarm clock built in perhaps? *** Parkur didn't really know what he expected. As a mechanoid he tended to expect orders and the occasional upgrade to his squeasy-mop. He certainly wasn't expecting what he found round the next corner. An area of the supply deck of nearly a square mile had been cleared and the cargo crates and palettes had been reorganised into low, squat shapes. There was an avenue, a broad path between the low structures led between them to a massive architectural achievement constructed from what appeared to be mechanical parts, sacks of grain and barrels of cooking oil. It towered above them, lit by fiery torches in cages, hanging on blackened chains. Pillars meshed together from cables and lengths of spare water plumbing pipes loomed over the whole thing and bore a shape which seemed surprisingly familiar to Parkur, though he couldn't quite place it. 'This is amazing,' the Teasmade giggled gleefully, 'look at all this! It's like a city. They've got nearly everything here. You know what they don't have though?' 'You're going to say tea, aren't you?' 'No, of course not. Wow, you make me sound really obsessed. It's not possible you're sublimating what you're feeling are you?' The Teasmade sounded cheerfully concerned for Parkur, 'I mean I don't want to pry, but do you perhaps have an unhealthy desire that associates with making tea? Do you need to make tea now? Because, you know, we only have to save the crew from whatever terrible fate has befallen them.' 'No!' Parkur snapped. He had noticed movement from the squat shapes that lined the avenue to the large building. Small figures were emerging, difficult to see in the gloom. 'I do not want tea. Look, there's something happening down there.' 'Besides, I was going to say coffee. They don't have coffee.' 'They lingered, which was to be expected,' droned the Peewee, 'how could they know that the fear they felt now was so much less than that which they would shortly face.' 'Fear?' Parkur hadn't realised just how afraid he was. Here, deep in the heart of Blue Dwarf, was a strange Tribe of creatures who had built a small town and some sort of edifice. He had thought he was as scared as it was possible to get, but no, his CPU made a packet call and located some unused resources and so added a few extra Gig of processing power to his terror. 'Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?' A Skutter obligingly cracked him across the back to clear the program loop. 'What is this place?' 'Too late, they realised the terrible nature of their self-created predicament. They were in the belly of the beast, from which there was no turning back,' the Peewee seemed reluctant to proceed but soon they had no choice. Bearing lit welding torches, two battered, scarred Skutters trundled towards them, blue flame flickering menacingly. 'Hello?' Parkur volunteered. The two Tribe Skutters moved straight ahead, causing the two regular Skutters with Parkur, to slide to one side, out of the way. 'START PROGRAM,' one of the Skutters grunted in machine code, 'Ten: Let string one equal Intruder. Twenty: Get String One. Goto Thirty. Thirty: Print: Identify.' Parkur wanted to be able to frown, or open his eyes wide in astonishment but he couldn't, his chrome face was a solid piece of metal, 'I'm sorry?' One of the Tribe-Skutters waved its welding torch menacingingly: "Fourty: If string one greater than zero goto sixty. Fifty: Goto Thirty.' 'Thirty,' the other one growled, 'Print: Identify.' 'Identify? Us? I am Parkur, a mechanoid of Blue Dwarf. What is this place?' 'Sixty,' the Skutter continued oblivious, 'Print: String one, follow. Parkur, follow. Seventy: End.' It then lapsed into silence, turned and began to glide towards the large building at the end of the concourse. With little else to do, they followed its little motorised base. On each side of them were more Skutters with marked casings. Most held some sort of tool, sharpened to a wicked point. 'They've become primitive,' the Teasmade cooed, 'look at them. They've damaged their casings themselves. What language are they speaking? It sounds like basic. Do you think they've turned savage?' 'They certainly seem very aggressive,' Parkur agreed. 'START PROGRAM,' a Tribal Skutter growled, waving its welding torch, 'Ten: Let input equal zero. End,' it said with feeling. They passed through the entrance into a massive reception hall. The metal floor plates had been polished to a mirrored shine. The ceiling was vaulted, with decorative bosses made from electrical parts. At the end of the hall was a raised dais upon which two Tribal Skutters flanked a third, holding miniature electric fans. The third was the most attention grabbing though. Its Tribal markings were deeper and darker than the any of the others and its exposed metal work on its neck and claws was polished to a gleaming chrome shrine. Most astonishing though, was the way it tottered above the other Skutters on a pair of spindly, skeletal metal legs. The two Skutters leading Parkur and the others lowered their heads until their claws touched the polished deck plates. From its prone position on the ground the Tribal Skutter spoke to its be-legged leader: 'START PROGRAM. Ten: If grace is greater than zero, then goto twenty. If grace equals zero then end.' 'Grace equals one,' the leader said in more advanced machine code. 'Twenty,' the Skutter continued, 'print: string one, and other intruders for your attention. Parkur and other intruders for your attention,' it said redundantly. The Skutter moved forwards on its legs, it was not graceful, but it what it had was authority by the bucket load. 'Who dares approach the Tribe of the Legs?'
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