Johnny sent the ship hurtling into the sky, and pressed it hard as he searched.
He had woken up on the floor of the ship, and berated himself for his weakness. The ship had insisted that he eat something before conducting his search, and Johnny had complied, knowing he’d need all his strength for the day ahead.
He spent the next few hours flying in ever-widening circles, stopping often to investigate the smallest disturbance in the forest below. Finally, he spotted a movement in the trees. Transferring his senses in that direction, Johnny saw a small group of men hiking, through the trees.
Immediately recognizing them as the men who had attacked the village, he was overcome with anger and hatred towards these men who had committed such wanton destruction on a group of unsuspecting innocents, and Johnny arced the ship in the direction of the tiny band of men, intent on destruction.
The ship sensed his intentions and prompted him: ‘Do you want to be visible to the naked eye, Master?’
No – how was that even possible?
‘Do you need personal arms and armour, Master?’
Well yes, now that he thought about it.
He halted the now invisible ship in mid-air and listened intently as the ship gave him instructions.
Since first finding the ship in the forest, Johnny had not actually spent much time exploring, short of a brief foray in the second level to find clothes, and twice upstairs for food. The ship now showed him that the two rooms on either side of the control station were, in fact, the armoury and the surgery, and that he would find what he needed there.
He found the armoury, and once again, was required to place his hand on an imprint to gain access. Once inside, he scanned the contents of the room, and then headed straight for what looked exactly like some sort of futuristic armour. There were several sets there, and he chose one at random.
It was predominantly silver, some sort of steel or alloy, with the same black material as his suit at the seams and joints, making it flexible yet tough. There was a helmet with a black visor that went with it, along with boots and gloves too. It seemed to be a one-size-fits-all design as it moulded itself to his body like a glove.
Johnny strapped a fearsome-looking gun and holster to his hip and reached for the helmet. Once on, it became apparent that it was some kind of sealed unit – there was a re-breather fixed to the back of his suit that automatically connected with the helmet once on.
To his surprise, Johnny realised that his suit mimicked the ship’s technology; he wasn’t seeing through the visor with his own eyes; instead, the helmet seemed to feed its perceptions straight into his mind. He was back in contact with the ship – in fact, he realised that he didn’t need to be on-board the ship for him to control it; as long as he was wearing the suit, he was in control.
What Johnny could not see was that when he had the helmet on, two red slits lit up in the visor, giving him a most baleful aspect.
Once suited up, he ran back into the main room and sat behind the controls. He brought the ship onto a course that would intercept the men, who had moved further up the trail by now. He immediately recognised the one who would be their leader; a big bull of a man, swarthy and bearded, shouting at the others in Spanish. Johnny knew he would be the one to provide him with the information he needed.
Reaching out with his mind he struck out at the nearest man, a pockmarked skinny fellow who was lagging behind the others, dragging his feet. Johnny sensed more than saw a beam of intense, blue energy pulsate from the ship that instantly turned his target into a flash of bright, white light. It happened so quickly, and was over so suddenly that only the man nearest him turned around to see what the fuss was about.
Johnny blasted him out of existence in an instant and then turned his attention to the remaining two guerrillas, who had both stopped and were staring in consternation at the puff of grey smoke that had once been their comrade. The leader raised his rifle and began shouting orders, but before he even had a chance to finish, the other man was mere molecules drifting in the wind.
The guerrilla leader started backing away slowly, emitting a high-pitched shriek, his eyes wild, as he looked around trying to identify the source of the attack. Johnny reached out and it was as though a giant hand had seized the man in a vice-like grip. He dropped his rifle and his shrieks now reached a fever pitch.
Johnny drew him towards the ship and was surprised to find that he had appeared in front of the control station, still shrieking like a mad man. It took a moment for the ship to confirm that it had the ability to transport people to and from itself in this manner, and once again, Johnny was impressed with its capabilities.
The man that Johnny missed was known as Miguel. He crouched now behind a tree and struggled to keep his fear under control. He had left the path to answer mother nature’s call, and El Torro’s screaming had alerted him to the fact that something was wrong.
Now he watched in horror as The Bull floated in mid-air in front of him and then disappeared into nothingness.
He waited another half an hour, and then seeing nothing to stop him, he ran up the trail as fast as his legs would take him, not looking back once.
Francesco could not believe his eyes. Never a very religious man, yet he still had that basic superstitious dread of the paranormal so common to people brought up within the Catholic faith.
He had just seen three of his men turn into pillars of flame right in front of him, and he knew the devil had finally come for him. He had always secretly feared the consequences of his actions; the terrible, violent and unspeakable things he had done in his life, and he knew now, with all his heart, that Judgment Day had arrived.
He could hear somebody screaming and it took him a moment to realize that it was coming from his own throat. He wanted to run, to fling his rifle away and run forever and never look back, but he was rooted to the spot as if his feet had grown roots. He felt himself seized by some invisible force and he nearly lost consciousness – so great was his terror.
He was in a room. No longer in the jungle with the sun on his face, but in a dark room with a subtle blue glow, and the devil was walking towards him.
‘Stay away! Stay away! Oh Mary, mother of God, save me! Save me!’
The devil was talking to him, but he could not understand the words, and he knew he was at the gates of Hell. He felt his bowels loosen as he lost total control, and he was dimly aware that he should be ashamed. What would his men think?
But his men were dead; dust in the wind.
‘Stop screaming and listen to me!’ He could understand him now and Francesco realized he was being addressed in English. That simple fact brought back a measure of his reason, and he struggled to subdue the dread that had up until now unmanned him.
‘That’s better. Now listen to me well cockroach, because the way you die is now entirely in your own hands.’
The iron grip that had until now held Francesco upright loosened a little and he sagged to his knees and then crumpled to the ground, unable to take his own weight. He was still shackled by an invisible force, but it had become more like a cage than a straight jacket, and he was finally able to regain a little of his composure as he rolled over to look at this being.
It towered over him, silver and black, with red eyes like Satan himself, and it scared the crap out of him, literally.
‘Who are you?’ he asked breathlessly.
‘Who I am is none of your concern. The only thing you need to concern yourself with is how you answer my questions. If you lie to me you will die like your friends.’
‘And if I tell the truth?’ Francesco felt hope flutter in his chest.
‘Then I will give you a fighting chance to live. You have committed an atrocity that is so wholly evil that you deserve no more mercy than you showed the poor, defenceless victims you so heartlessly murdered, but my need is such that I will spare your life if you give me the information I need.’
Francesco thought that sounded fair. ‘Tell me how I can help you,’ he said.
‘Where is the girl?’ The question was so unexpected that Francesco had no idea what he was talking about. ‘What girl?’ he asked.
‘The girl you captured from the village you slaughtered!’ the devil’s voice rose to a shriek and Francesco cowered back.
‘Forgive me lord! Don’t kill me please!’
‘Answer my question!’ Johnny shouted. He was worried that they had killed Jade, and hoped against hope that this brigand even knew where she was now.
‘The girl? The girl from the village? The girl is with Pedro!’ Francesco gasped, his mind spinning.
‘I left the girl with Pedro and I left Pedro in the jungle!’ He felt his spirits lift as he realized he would probably be able to find them again.
‘My lord, I can take you to the girl, and then you will spare me!’
‘We’ll see about that,’ said Johnny, relieved. Turning his attention to the ship, he requested a means by which the prisoner could assist in tracking down the girl and her captor. Immediately a massive portion of the ship in front of the control centre became translucent and Johnny realized that he could control the ship in this way without having to close his eyes.
He sat down behind the controls, removed the gloves, and then removed the helmet. There was a gasp from the captive.
‘You are human! You are a boy; a young boy!’ Francesco felt a sense of indignation that he was a prisoner of a child. ‘What is your name?’ he demanded, ‘you have no right to do this to me!’
Johnny looked up at him and Francesco realized his mistake. This may be a young boy, but in those eyes he saw his own death, and the realization came to him that he was in the presence of a being far superior to any he had met before.
‘Forgive me my lord; it was nothing more than the shock of seeing your face,’ he grovelled.
‘Stand up cockroach,’ instructed Johnny. ‘Face forward and tell me where to go.’
As Francesco stood up and saw the jungle from this perspective, he realized for the first time that he was in some kind of craft, and it all made a sick kind of sense.
‘This is a UFO,’ he said aloud, and turning to Johnny with real fear in his eyes, he continued, ‘and you are a spaceman – an alien!’ Johnny ignored him.
Francesco turned back to the view in front of him and started thinking hard. With a bit of luck and a lot of courage, he may still get out of this. This was flesh and blood, not spirits and demons, and he had a lot of experience with flesh and blood.
‘Guide me!’ instructed Johnny, and Francesco snapped out of his reverie.
‘Uhm, go forward a bit. Yes! There is our trail; now turn left… yes, like so, now forward. Do you see the trail?’ Johnny nodded.
‘Good, follow that trail for a few miles. You see the tree that stands taller than the rest? Well, I left Pedro not so far from there.’
The ship shot forward at such high speed that Francesco nearly lost his balance as vertigo got the better of him.
‘Okay, stop, stop! Yes, go right now just for a bit, yes there! There is where I left Pedro.’
Johnny closed his eyes and sent his senses out. He could see signs of a struggle, and he noticed blood on the grass. Then he heard a man’s voice, not far off.
‘Move woman! I cannot carry you any further!’
Johnny instantly recognised the Indian dialect in which the man was speaking. Then his blood ran cold as he heard a fist striking soft flesh.
Red with rage, Johnny sent the ship hurtling towards the sound. He found them in a small clearing, near the bank of a river. Johnny barely recognized her, so severe were the injuries from the beating she had received. Swollen beyond recognition, her face was a bloody mess, and she seemed to be unconscious.
There was a thin, dark, snake-like man standing over her prone body; fist ready to strike, and Johnny lost all control.
An invisible force grabbed Pedro and yanked him violently twenty feet into the air. Stunned speechless, Pedro could only gulp like a fish out of water. It felt as though his insides were going to burst, so hard was the iron grip that held him. His tongue protruded from the side of his mouth as he gasped for air.
Johnny flung Pedro from side to side, back and forth; so brutally that he could feel his ribs cracking and the vertebrae in his neck straining to breaking point. Branches from nearby trees whipped him with such force that Pedro could feel the blood pouring down his face and neck from the lacerations. A chance twig from a nearby tree caught in his right eye and plucked his eyeball cleanly from the socket, leaving it to jiggle and bounce on the optic cord as his body was slowly but surely reduced to a sack of broken bone and jelly.
Johnny then lifted him high into the air and threw him back down to earth so violently that he bounced when he hit the ground, his one leg bent awkwardly behind his back. Blood ran freely from his mouth; sure sign of a punctured lung; and his breathing came in shuddering, gulping gasps, fighting for every breath he took.
Alive, his remaining eye wide open in terror, Pedro could still hear the last words that the girl had spoken the evening before.
‘…I laugh at what my Lord is going to do to you when he finds you, and find you he will.’
Surprised that these words had sprung to mind, he never got a chance to finish the thought, as his head was ripped from his shoulders and his body was hurled, cart-wheeling hundreds of feet into the air, out over the jungle, never to be seen again.
Francesco watched this awesome display of violence with a rising sense of doom. There was nothing he could do against such power, and he rallied himself, his survival instinct taking over. He had no doubt that his life was forfeit after what Pedro had done to the girl, and having seen the sheer force of rage and power that he was capable of, Francesco’s fear of the boy was greater than he had felt for any man.
He watched as the body of the girl levitated off the ground and floated gently towards the ship, and as she materialized next to him, Francesco lunged for her, hoping to use her as a bargaining chip against his life.
Johnny looked up just as his captive made a wild dive for Jade, and to his horror, he realised that somehow transporting her on board had released Francesco from his invisible bonds. Francesco grabbed Jade around the neck as Johnny leaped to his feet, grabbing his gun from its holster. It was the most frightening looking device Francesco had ever seen, but he held the girl in front of him, using her as a shield.
‘Not so fast my little friend! Put the gun down, nice and easy, or I’ll snap her neck – as easy as you did to Pedro!’ he threatened, tightening his grip.
No good would come of this. If he didn’t comply, this brute of a man could, and would, make good his threat. Jade hung limp as a rag doll, clenched in Francesco’s muscular, brown arms. If he did capitulate, then this barbarian would have not only himself and Jade as captives, but would be in control of a power that nothing on this earth could stop if wielded by the wrong man.
‘No more chances boy!’ Francesco tightened his grip around Jade’s neck and Johnny saw her face turning blue as Francesco starved her of air.
‘Okay, okay!’ Johnny dropped the gun, and stood back with both arms in the air. Francesco released the pressure on Jade’s neck, and her head slumped to the side.
‘Kick the gun here, to me. Do it nice and slow and we’ll all be happy.’
Johnny obeyed and Francesco caught it up deftly with his right hand as it skidded over the floor to him. Releasing the unconscious girl, he jumped to his feet in triumph.
‘Aha! Now I have you, you little bugger! Now we will see who is the cockroach and who is the boot, yes?
‘On the floor! Kneel and pray to your gods, if you have any!’ Johnny dropped slowly to his knees, with his hands in the air, and watched Francesco unblinkingly. His mind was racing, but without the helmet, or any physical contact with the controls, he had no way of guiding or controlling the ship.
He watched Francesco impassively, waiting for a chance to retaliate, but suddenly, to Johnny’s horror, Francesco reached down and grabbed a fistful of Jade’s long, blonde hair. He yanked her roughly into a sitting position, and squatting beside her, he put the gun against her head.
‘So, my little friend, you kill my men, and make me dirty my pants? For what? For this? She is so dirty I do not think her own mother would recognize her even if you threw her in the river.’
He laughed, ‘Besides, it looks as if Pedro had nearly finished his work with her before you interrupted so rudely. I don’t think she will last the night, hmm?’
Johnny said nothing.
‘I think it’s best we put her out of her misery, don’t you?’
Before Johnny could react, Francesco tightened his finger on the trigger and braced himself for that flush of excitement he always felt – that split second between action and reaction he had come to love so well when murdering his victims.
Instead, in a blinding flash of unbearable pain, Francesco dropped the gun as it reacted to the undesirable entity it sensed was trying to use it. Hugging his arm to his body, he jumped to his feet.
‘What the hell?’ he yelled; almost doubled up in agony. Johnny rose to his feet, with the realisation slowly dawning upon him.
‘Well cockroach, you see what happens when mere mortals attempt to use the tools of the gods?’ he said, the Guardian’s words echoing in his head. The implications were startling, as he knew he could have fired the gun without concern, but he didn’t have time to dwell on them now. Francesco wasn’t finished just yet. He was as tough as he was cruel, and now he looked at Johnny through slitted eyes, his injured hand still held close to his chest.
‘So you think this is over?’ he shouted as he threw himself at Johnny, closing the few feet that separated them in a second. Johnny nearly lost his balance as he ducked to avoid the blow that was aimed at his head.
Francesco skidded to a halt and turned, bellowing with rage. Johnny jumped back a pace, but Francesco was quicker, and before he could react, Johnny found himself on the floor with the big man straddling him.
Francesco gripped Johnny tightly around his throat, methodically choking the life out of him. Johnny could feel the pressure building up in his ears and behind his eyes, but he struggled in vain. Francesco was three times his size and as strong as an ox.
His vision began to blur and sparkle, and he knew his eyes were playing tricks on him, as it seemed Francesco’s face was distorting slightly. His eyes seemed to bulge and then his mouth opened in a silent scream, and while Johnny still watched uncomprehendingly, Francesco’s eyeballs exploded in their sockets, and a massive gout of blood erupted from his mouth, covering Johnny’s face.
His grip on Johnny’s neck relaxed and with a strangled, cawing sound he toppled off him in slow motion. Johnny lay stunned for a few seconds, struggling to regain his breath. He could not take his eyes off Francesco’s sightless, bloody face, lying almost nose-to-nose with his.
Choking back revulsion, he scrambled to his feet, still gasping for breath.
Had the ship miraculously come to his rescue?
He didn’t think so. Francesco had proved without a doubt that he was genetically incompatible with the ship’s advanced technology, and perhaps it had sensed him as an intruder and retaliated, yet somehow he knew that couldn’t be the answer. The ship was not capable of independent action. It was a tool. A very, very intricate, advanced and dangerous tool, but a dumb piece of metal nonetheless.
Still gasping for breath, doubled over with his hands on his knees, Johnny glanced at Jade. To his surprise, he saw that she was sitting up on one elbow, swaying slightly, her head nodding as if she was about to pass out, and she held the gun in her hand.
Johnny ran over to her and knelt beside her, taking her into his arms.
‘My Lord,’ she said weakly, ‘I knew you would come.’ Fresh blood ran from her nose and soaked into her clothing. He could see she was weak, and in a lot of pain.
Johnny rocked her gently, ‘Hush Jade, hush my darling.’
‘My Lord, did my actions commend me to you?’ she asked quietly, lifting her bruised and battered face to his; and Johnny choked back his tears.
‘Jade – oh Jade! You beautiful, clever, wonderful girl! You saved my life! I owe you everything. Everything!’
Johnny was crying openly now. He leaned forward, cradling her head in his hands, and kissed her on the forehead, her swollen eyes, the tip of her bloodied nose, and then, ever so gently, he kissed Jade on her bruised and bloodied lips.
‘I love you Jade. I have loved you since the moment I first laid eyes on you.’ He looked into her eyes and she too was crying.
‘I promise you this, my heart. As long as I draw breath, I will care for you and be by your side. No harm will ever come to you while I live.’
‘I know, my Lord,’ she whispered, ‘I have never doubted it for a moment,’ she said before fainting in his arms.
Published Titles in the Johnny Roberts Series:
Book Two: Johnny Roberts and the Gods of Eden
Andrew Noble © 2012
Cover artwork: Adam Van Der Riet © 2012
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© 2012 Andrew Noble All Rights Reserved