There Be Monsters
Summary: A horror movie nerd and gunslinging mad scientist travel the world following the footsteps of a late adventurer.
It Came From the Basement
A cool autumn breeze almost knocked the baseball cap off Rick Landon's head as he stepped out of the car, a 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale. Protected from the cold in a bomber jacket and jeans, he groaned and stretched out after the long drive.
"How are you doing, boy?" he opened the backseat, and a brown spotted basset hound leapt out. Rex wagged his tail and barked happily. "That's a good dog."
He turned towards the nearby hill, and his eyes gravitated towards the mansion on top of it. The old blue Victorian manor towered above the gold and brown forest around it, and an overgrown rock path lead into the front door. The mansion and the hill stood out of the New England woods like a mountain peak stabbing the sky. On the front porch, a disheveled and towering pale man in a lab coat fooled with a multimeter and loading strange bullets into his Italian autorevolver.
"Hey Jason," Rick waved at his friend. "Find anything good in there?"
"I did, but I since you are late yet again, my daily schedule has been delayed by your liberal approach to deadlines," he muttered to himself.
"Someone's in a bad mood," Rick picked up his dog. "How about I let Rex join you?" The dog barked playfully, staring with wistful eyes at Jason. "I'd have thought you'd be down in Grandpa's basement, with all the cool stuff down there."
"Keep that wretched animal away from me, or I shall test one of my new electro-shock rounds on it," Jason closed the cylinder of his pistol. "But yes, I am enjoying your grandfather's artifact collection and library. It is truly a pity that the only fate you'd consign them to is as props in yet another incomplete homemade horror film of yours."
"Get him, Rex. Show the mean scientist that he's being an ass again," The dog barked again, ignoring the scientist's rants. Rick set the dog down, and it ran up to the porch, and playfully pounced onto the mad scientist's lap. "Yuck!" Jason exclaimed as he stood up, and retreated into the house. Rick could see Jason run inside, and he saw Jason washing his hands in the window.
Rex's tongue hung from his mouth, and wagged his tail even faster.
"Good job, Rex," Rick petted his canine companion.
Dr. Jason Riegel emerged from the house with a pair of gloves on, and sour look on his face. "Why you tolerate living with that filthy creature is beyond me," he muttered. "But moving on, there is something I would like to show you in the basement."
Jason holstered his gun and sensor. "There is some mild radiation from the artifact, so I cannot recommend putting it near your crotch. Or your animal."
"His name is Rex," Rick replied. "Look, Jason, I appreciate you helping me look through Grandpa's stuff, but what's so important you have to drag me out here this early?"
"My favorite form of validation is direct observation," Jason held the door open. "Come in."
Rick and Rex followed his friend inside, and the door creaked shut. Memories poured into Rick's brain as he passed into the musty living room. He recalled playing hide and seek with his grandfather, laying behind the old furniture in the room. Grandpa always knew where he was, but would play along most of the time. Every step he took into the house, he could feel the echoes of a thousand memories buried somewhere within.
An old grandfather clock began to chime as he entered the library. A pile of technical manuals, yellowing lab journals, and musty textbooks on a nearby table indicated that Jason had been enjoying his grandfather's library in the meantime. While Rick was no scholar, his grandfather and friend were. Deep inside, he was glad at least someone was ready all those thick, heavy books. Jason stopped near the guest room he was sleeping at, now filled with guns, high-tech tools, and scientific equipment. He pulled out a set of keys from the clutter.
Jason opened the locked basement stairs, a yawning mouth to the dark underground. Jason descended the stairs at a brisk pace, and Rick could not help but notice a grin of anticipation on his face. Each step Rick took down the basement, he felt the old wood groan and creak, as if the house irritated by their presence. The dim lights and stale air gave Rick a chill down his back. The last time he had been down here, his grandfather had to drag him out.
"Yes. Why Dirk Wolfe hoarded these priceless artifacts to himself when they possessed all manner of unique scientific, historical, and other implications is beyond me," Jason noted. "But, I'm sure they'd be very suitable for your horror movies."
Jason hit a light switch, illuminating the bottom of the basement. Countless artifacts and exotic items from various ends of the Earth filled boxes and shelves. Rick's eyes drifted towards various objects in the collection. A rack of shrunken heads held the names of places they had been acquired from. A massive Polynesian styled idol sat propped against the wall, next to a suit of armor and sword taken from a European castle. Next to a portrait that seemed to follow him with its gaze was a photograph of his grandfather's military unit in World War II. Hanging on a back wall was a large lion's head, stuffed and mounted. An ornately etched express rifle hung under the lion's head, with a yellowing card reading, "Not bad for a bloody Yank. –Lord Richard Wake." A Mauser Broomhandle sat under a dust-covered glass case. In the back corner of the basement, away from the light, was a box of Jason's tools scattered on the ground. Above it was something that Rick could not help but stare at. Rex began barking as Rick's gaze drifted magnetically towards the thing.
It was approximately the height of a man, but exaggerated and bulbous in its figure. The entirety of the figure was comprised of stainless steel. Wiring and strange gages crisscrossed its body and limbs like veins. Instead of hands, it had a pair of pincers that looked like they could crush bones with ease. Two lightbulbs stood where its eyes should be, locked forward in a strange stance. A still-discernable swastika was painted on each arm, faded with time and partially scraped off by hand.
"Interesting, is it not?" Jason pointed at the metal man. "I was going over Wolfe's notes on this particular machine, captured in the laboratory of a Nazi war criminal."
"So, what's a Nazi robot doing in my grandpa's basement?" Rick asked. "Does it work?"
"This is an amazing machine," Dr. Riegel explained. "An analog robot built with only technology from Nazi Germany, before we even discovered the integrated circuit. I am still unsure how it performs any processing in such a compact form, though."
"What happened to the original owner, anyway?" Rick asked, moving towards the robot.
"The Nazi mad scientist was found dead before capture," Jason explained. "He did succeed in partially destroying his notes on this machine, however. Most of what your grandfather recovered was a damaged manual."
"Whatever it is, it gives Rex the creeps," Rick saw his dog growing at the automaton. "No wonder he never let me back here."
"I have partially refurbished it," Jason grinned. "I was thinking it would be a wonderful prop for your horror movies."
"Gee, thanks, Jason!" Rick grinned. "You didn't have to do that for me!"
"You are providing me with lodging for now, so it is only fair I salvage what I can of your grandfather's collection," Jason replied. "Besides, once it is active, I can conduct additional tests on it."
"You mean, you haven't turned it on yet?" Rick turned to the scientist. "How do you know it will work?"
"There were a number of black box components I could not break down, but I according to my tests, it should be fully functional now," Jason grinned. "I want you to have the honor of turning it on. The control switch is on the back of the neck."
"Oh, man, this is awesome!" Rick approached the robot. He looked down at his dog, which was flashing teeth at the Nazi machine. "Thanks, Jason. I'm so glad you did this!"
Rick walked over to the robot, and felt behind the neck for a small button. The metal was cold to the touch. He depressed it gently, and the switch clicked. Rick stepped back, and looked at the robot. It was as if nothing had happened. He turned to see dog had hidden behind an old crate, still watching the robot. He knelt down in front of his growling dog. "Shh," he tried to get his dog out. "Don't worry. That thing's just a piece of junk."
Suddenly, Rick felt a cold, icy hand caress his neck, as if brushing shoulders with the Grim Reaper himself. His head jerked around to see Jason's gloved hand. "Excuse me," he said, walking by. "I think I might need additional repairs…"
Jason put his hand under his chin, and wandered into the corner, lost in thought. Rick turned back to his dog when he felt another hand touch his neck from behind. "Hey, Jason, any ideas yet?" he turned his head.
He came face to face with the sinister, crimson glowing eyes of the robot. The metal monster pressed down on his arms with its claws, holding with the strength of a vice grip. Two shots suddenly echoed in the basement, and two electric darts contacted the robot. Rick saw lighting arc from Jason's shock bullets into the robot, stunning it momentarily. He thrust himself out of the robot's hydraulic death-grip and leapt back.
He saw the robot charge Jason with its arms covering its head, shock rounds harmlessly ricocheting off the machine. The robot slammed the pistol out of the scientist's hand, and grabbed him with both grips. The robot began to shake him like a ragdoll, and Rick looked for a weapon. He dove across the basement floor, grabbing a wrench from Jason's toolbox, and smashed it against the robot's head as hard as he could. The wrench bounced off, knocking his hands back.
The head of the robot rotated a hundred-eighty degrees, with its red eyes flaring pure anger at him. It dropped Jason, and focused on him. The machine snatched the wretch from Rick's grasp, and bent it like a wet noodle. The pincers came straight for Rick's neck, and he suddenly felt something pull him back. The pincers missed him by millimeters, and he saw it was Rex who had yanked him back.
The robot stepped back, and began approaching a window. The automaton's hydraulic legs clanked on the concrete floor, sounding like some stray industrial machinery. It stared outside, and the eyes began to flash increasingly faster. Jason grabbed his empty pistol, and pulled Rick backwards, behind some debris. Something was warming up, and it was not good.
"Take cover!" Jason shouted.
For an instant, the two were blinded by a shockwave and deafened by an explosion. With the force of an artillery strike, the two were sent flying back against the wall. Blinded and deafened for an imagined eternity, Rick was woken up by Rex licking his face. As he came to, he realized a huge chunk of basement wall and dirt had been blown out, and deep footprints lead outside.
Jason was missing, and gunshots echoed from upstairs. Ignoring the agony that wracked his body, Rick raced upstairs to see Jason holding a powerful AUG rifle. He was taking pot-shots out the window at a metallic shape vanishing into the woods. His assault rifle clicked empty, and he went back to his room.
"Crap, out of rifle ammo," he muttered. "It figures that I run dry at the least optimal moment."
"Hey, Jason, what the hell happened?" Rick asked. "Where's the robot?"
"It blasted out of the basement and headed in the woods," Jason replied. "I've been trying to shoot it with the largest firearm I had, but no effect."
"Did you call the cops?" Rick asked.
"They won't be able to respond for hours out here," Jason gazed out the window. "But I have a solution. First, let me check your wounds."
Still unsure of how injured he was, Rick laid on a nearby couch. Jason examined his wounds, and cleaned them out the best he could.
"No fractures or deep lacerations," Jason replied. "If you're feeling up to it, I'll need you and that mangy mutt to help me."
"Rex isn't mangy, moron," Rick petted his dog. "You want us to go after that robot?"
"Bassett hounds are bred for hunting, and that robot isn't exactly subtle," Jason went reached into a crate of firearms. "We need to seek and destroy it before it reaches a populated area."
"We're in the middle of nowhere, Jason," Rick replied. "How do we know that robot won't get lost in the woods?"
"I've looked at its specs," Jason explained. "It was designed as a terror weapon. It tries to find roads and railways, and follow them into a town. It then annihilates the town, vanishes into the woods, and rise and repeat."
"Honestly, man, if that assault rifle can't stop it, what makes you think any other gun you have can?" Rick replied. "You rely on those weapons too damn much."
A wicked grin crossed Jason Riegel's face as he pulled out a gun from his room. He loaded a magazine into his suppressed P90, and slung it under his lab coat. "This gun was made to specifically pierce armor. If I can get close enough, that Nazi robot is going to have more holes than Swiss cheese."
Rick rolled his eyes. "You're missing the point, man. What about power? Or repairs? It's made in the Forties. How long could the batteries last, anyway?"
"It has to absorb power from electric lines after a few days according to the specs, but the rest was burned away," Jason replied. "Electromagnetic pulses don't even bother it much, since the processor is shielded."
"But those electric bullets of yours did stun it," Rick shrugged. "Until it blocked them."
"Speaking of bullets, Rick, have any firearms or weapons with you? I'd rather you be armed when you accompany me," Jason nodded. "Unarmed men hunting dangerous prey are liabilities."
"I didn't bring any," Rick shook his head. "Unlike you, I don't bring weaponry everywhere."
"Here's two for you, then," Jason vanished into his room and came back with a Glock and a pump shotgun. "I recommend you keep the shotgun ready, since there's no telling when or where we'll find it. Previous data shows that violence provides the simplest and most permanent solution to a majority of problems."
Rick reluctantly slid the shotgun over his back and slid the holstered Glock into his bomber jacket. Rex looked up at him, and then at the ranting scientist. "Um, Jason, can I ask you something else?"
"What is it? We are losing precious time to destroy the robot!" Riegel ranted. "It could be planning to annihilate a nursery as we speak!"
"What kind of processor does it have? I mean, weren't computers back then pretty damn big?" Rick replied. "What if it's some kind of supernatural-"
"Nonsense. The manual indicates the processor was based on contemporary Russian and American research into isolated brains, not alchemy or Hebrew golem crafting," Jason protested. "I doubt that a Nazi would use Jewish mysticism in their war machines."
"How'd that Nazi guy die, anyway?" Rick asked. "You said they found him dead."
"Decapitated next to the robot, with his head missing," Jason replied. "What? Why do you ask?"
"Just a hunch," Rick nodded. "Look, I've got a better idea than just chasing it through the woods."
"What? Do you have ammunition for that elephant gun downstairs?" Jason grinned. "That certainly has enough firepower-"
"No, even simpler than that. You said it follows roads towards larger towns, right?" Rick explained. "Well, there's only one road leading out of here, and there's that old covered bridge you have to cross."
"Ah, an ambush at a strategic chokepoint!" Jason mused. "Brilliant idea! It's an optimal situation for close combat firearms, and a place the machine is unlikely to deploy its energy blast."
"Yeah, whatever you said," Rick explained. "I was just thinking we blow up the bridge when it crosses, or try ramming it into the water with the car."
"The specifications mention it is not waterproof," Jason grinned. "If the machine is overloaded, I may have a chance to study the processor without risk."
"How about we just blow up the bridge?" Rick mused. "Simpler, and we have less risk."
"Sadly, I lack explosives," Jason replied. "I am a firearms researcher, not a demolitions expert."
"Any other gadgets of yours that could help?" Rick asked. "Anything that's useful and doesn't shoot bullets."
"My lab coat retains its metamaterial construction, so I can hide from vision or sensors more efficiently," Jason replied, wiping his glasses. "I have some sticky nanotube-based rope able to hold objects tight, and I have a pen for writing."
"Well, get all of those things, and let's roll," Rick pointed to his car. "We've got a robot to catch."
Rex began barking happily, and Rick petted him. "That's right, boy, we're going hunting," he shouldered the gun and picked up his dog.
"Ugh," Jason walked out to the car. "I'll be in the rear."
Rick walked his dog down to the car, and gave Rex shotgun position next to him. Rick rolled down the window, and Rex let his tongue hang as he stuck his head out the window. Jason stewed in the back, checking his various devices and gadgets. The car rumbled to life, and jerked down the road he had arrived on.
"Say, Jason, I had a question for you," Rick asked. "You still keep in touch with your family?"
"Not much," Jason slurred his words together. "Let's just say it's rather awkward to talk when you were evicted from the house for performing an experiment involving a deceased pet, a robotic skeleton, and homemade weapons."
"You know, I'm almost afraid to ask," Rick mused. "My parents meant well, but I didn't do all those weird ass experiments in my room. No offense."
"None taken. Mine were fairly benevolent, but sadly possessed parochial worldviews," Jason sighed. "They could not see I was only trying to help them, and the rest of humanity. They were not as grand souls as your grandfather."
"Well, you're helping me, so thanks," Rick replied. "You're always welcome to stay at Grandpa's old house."
"So long as I have that job teaching locally, I shall take you up on that offer," Jason mused. "I enjoy setting young scientists' minds on fire far more than houses."
"The only thing we should be setting on fire now is that crazy robot," Rick replied. "Okay, here's the bridge coming up."
Down the road, a wooden covered bridge covered a babbling stream. Trees grew over the road leading up to the bridge, dosing it in shadow and making seem as though it was the entrance to some arboreal cathedral. The bridge itself had no electric lights on it, so Rick turned on his car's headlights. The beams illuminated some chrome figure in the bridge. As his headlights drew closer, the automatic came within view. Its sinister red eyes seemed to meet Rick's, and they began to flash intensely.
"Oh, shit!" he uttered. "Jason, Rex, get ready to bail!"
Rick hit the gas in the car, and saw his dog jump out the open window. Jason did a perfectly synchronized martial arts roll on the ground, and Rick tried to follow him out. He fell on the ground and rolled for several feet while the car plowed ahead. Rick saw the vehicle barrel towards the robot, hopefully distracting it from using its death ray. Instead of stopping, the robot jumped straight up at the last moment, and clung to the roof of the bridge using its arms. It unleashed a brilliant blast of light, vaporizing part of the bridge's wall.
Cinders and white-hot splinters flew like shrapnel, causing Rick to grunt as the machine approached him. He wracked the pump on his shotgun, and blasted at the robot as fast as he could. The shotgun thundered like a cannon, and he kept falling back as the relentless machine stormed towards him. Eventually, the shotgun clicked empty, and he began taking futile shots with his pistol. The only damage he inflicted to the machine seemed to be small pock-marks on its metallic chest from where bullets and buck landed.
"Jason? Rex? Where the hell are you guys?" Rick asked, looking for some help. "I really could use some help here!"
Suddenly, a fast, brown shape jumped from the nearby brush and bit the machine's leg as tight as it could. Rick looked down and saw Rex biting and wrapping himself around the robot's leg in some vain attempt to stop it. "No boy! This isn't something you can take down!" he shouted at his dog.
The robot raised its powerful hydraulic leg, ready to crush the dog like an insect. Rick saw the dog look up, quivering, realizing he may have bitten off more than he could chew. Suddenly, electricity jolted through the Nazi machine, immobilizing it. Rex let go of the machine, and ran back to Rick. He looked back to see Jason crouching in the shadows of the woods, aiming his autorevolver. His coat seemed to be part of the foliage, changing color based on where he sat.
Rick saw the mad scientist fire another electro-shock round at the robot, immobilizing it in place. The machine winced and whirred, but could not mobilize itself. Jason drew his P90, and charged the robot like a madman. He fired burst after burst of armor-piercing rounds at the machine, shredding its vulnerable joints and eyes. Eventually, he came up behind it, and attached one end of some sort of rope. He wrapped the other end around his waist, and darted towards the bridge. He stopped near the hole in the bridge's wall, and Rick saw his chance. He charged the recovering robot, knocking it over and sending it backwards as Jason jumped into the stream.
Rick saw the current sweep his friend under the bridge, and the robot flying towards the opening in the bridge. However, he saw Jason stop after a moment, bobbing soaked in the water with something massive holding him down. Something was pulling back on Jason, and trying to reel him in. Rick turned to see the robot, still functional, was trying to pull Jason back towards it with its one good arm. Even though it lay on its side near the hole in the bridge it had blasted, it was still struggling.
Rick rushed towards the prone robot, and rolled it like a log into the water. "Now this is how you do Rick rolling," he said as the machine splashed into the shallow water below. He could see some parts of the robot starting to smoke, the signs of a hundred circuits shorting at once. It vanished beneath the surface, sinking like a stone. Rick breathed a sigh of relief. He saw Jason swimming towards the opposite side, nanotube rope now in hand, and wave to him. Jason waterlogged and looked like he was something Rex brought in after a rainstorm.
"We got it!" he gave two thumps to the scientist. "What are your plans?"
"We wait an hour, and then pull it out with the car," Jason replied. "According to the specifications, it should be quite safe to investigate it in greater detail, once we are sure it's deactivated for good."
"It's done enough damage already," Rick whistled at the bridge. "We can probably still use the bridge, but we'll need to fix up the side and the basement wall."
"Don't worry," Jason grinned. "I am quite confident once I remove that machine's processor, I can reprogram it to fix the damage in record time, and without need of a construction crew. Then, it would be perfectly suitable as a movie prop."
Rick looked at his soaking wet friend, and noticed something. "Hey, Jason, where's your gun?"
Jason patted himself, and realized his favorite pistol had been dropped during the fight. "Holy Tesla," he muttered to himself. "My gun? Where's Sophie?"
It was then Rex jumped into the stream, and began stuck his head below the murky surface. Rick saw his dog emerge on the other side of the flowing ribbon of brown water minutes later, with Jason's gun covered in mud in his mouth. Rick saw Rex set the pistol down in front of the scientist, and bark happily.
Jason dropped to his knees. "Oh, thank goodness!" he patted the dog on the head after wiping off the gun with his lab coat. "You're a good dog, yes you are! You saved my Sophie, yes you did."
Rex barked again, and Rick walked across the bridge to join them. A few hours later, Rick had dragged the soaked, battered, and muddy robot back to his house. Jason had gotten changed into a new set of clothes, and stood over the central body of the robot with a wrench in one hand and Sophie in the other. Rick stood by, Rex in his hands, as the robot was opened up. Inside were several blacked fuses, soaked wires, and damaged parts. They all surrounded a reinforced black box.
"Think you can fix that, man?" he looked in. "I mean, it looks pretty messed up."
"I was going to replace most of those analog parts with digital components anyway," Jason reached into the machine. "Now, let us examine how the Germans were able to make such a compact computer with their own era's limited technology."
Jason pulled out the black box, now loosened enough that he could remove it with his hands. He set the unit down on the ground, and took temperature readings with a sensor in his hand. "Interesting," he mused. "Some thermocouple has been keeping this thing functional for decades. Whatever is inside must've been sealed and insulated very well, independent of the outside temperature."
"Well, not recently. Looks like something's leaking," Rick pointed to a stray bullet hole in the side. "Got a way to peek inside?"
"Yes, I have a fiber optic scope," he pulled out a laptop and connected a flexible fiber optic camera. He slid it into the recently made hole. "Whatever's inside is going to appear."
Rick could see Jason was excited to see what was up. Part of him was likewise interested, since it had driven some crazy machine that nearly killed him. He was about to ask something when a blob of pixels appeared on the monitor, too disorganized to make out. The monitor changed colors as Jason fiddled with the settings and resolution. The image came into view, and the two leaned in closer. A familiar structure appeared before them, wrinkled and squashed together. A brain appeared on the monitor, suspended in solution. It was protected from damage by a smaller sealed vessel within, and Jason noticed a name plate etched into the side.
"Ah, this is two mysteries solved," Jason picked up the black box, tilting such that no more solution would leak out. "This, Rick, is the brain of the Nazi war criminal. He did not quite die as much as have his creation load his brain into it, as a control unit."
"So that killer robot was driven by a Nazi brain?" Rick stared in disbelief. "What's the other mystery?"
"His intention for stealing isolated brain research from other scientists," Jason grinned. "I must say, longevity as an isolated brain controlling a robot is an interesting technical challenge. I will take some measurements of this brain, its solution, and design, and then I shall render it to you."
"What do you think I'd want some brain in a jar for, Jason?" Rick mused. "Especially some evil Nazi that tried to murder us!"
"Oh, I'm sure you'd find much more utility for it as a horror movie prop," Jason mused. "It certainly looks better outside the robot, in my opinion."
Rick put his hand over Jason's shoulder. "You were right, man," he looked at the brain-case and the robot. "This was a good reason to come over. Imagine what I could do with a real retro-robot and brain in a jar!"
"I am sure you will think of plenty of things," Jason replied. "But for now, I will modify the robot to work without the brain. I estimate the damage the robot caused will be fixed in less than a week. During that time, I will conduct my tests, and then we can resume looking through the basement."
"Good deal to me," Rick slapped him on the back. "Rex likes it, too."
The dog barked, and wagged its tail. By the end of the week, the damage had been repaired, and Rick had a new respect for things that came from his grandfather's basement.