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  Table of contents Issue Twenty-two THE THIRD INDEX

a Margo LePlatt Tale

by GARY CLIFTON
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hey trekked through a deep, green and nearly impossible lush living chaos. “Mama,” Shelby looked up at her mother, her face having taken on that delicate scowl that revealed a healthy mix of amusement and displeasure. “These things smell so bad; I’d bet a hungry dog wouldn’t eat one.” Shelby laughed at herself but quickly realized that her mother was in no mood for jokes.



Despite her demeanor, and even despite that fact that her astute, and psychically in tune daughter would surely see right through it, Margot LePlatt, darkly beautiful, even when bathed in perspiration in a the Ecuadorianesque rain forest, smiled at her daughter. “Most of the original humans didn’t care for broccoli, darling, but necessity, as you well know, is the mother of invention. You eventually learned to like it. Even vampires need our veggies and protein”



“They stink and taste like boiled toads,” Shelby held up a bone, scrappy flesh clinging to it. There were still flashes of humor in her childlike eyes. Still childlike, despite the fact that she’d been a child for centuries now.



“Baby, they are toads…of some sort. Although their blood is cold, be thankful it’s at least red. You’ve never had the displeasure of fuschia blood. It sets every sense on fire and makes one’s body feel as if it’s being torn apart. Some have developed a taste even for that...”



That sent Shelby into a quiet reprise of imagination. Part of her wanted to ask Margot about this fuchsia blood, but the stronger part of her mind would get entirely too much enjoyment from imagining the possibilities to ever allow herself to spoil the fun. Shelby would always keep her childlike fascination as Margot would always remain grounded and focused on the moment. They both, however, were nearly the same age. Margot had been a very vivacious, attractive 25-year-old indentured servant on a vast Romanian estate and Shelby more of a slave on the same grounds. Both had been ordered into the Baron quarters and seduced into a life of blood centuries before. Once bitten, both would remain the same biological age forever. As they had the same creator, they shared a kind of familial link that the human world had not afforded them. Margot was now, and forever would be, Shelby’s ‘mother’ and Shelby her ‘daughter’.



Shelby had often joked that although she spoke several languages and played the violin and several other instruments at the philharmonic level, she was the only kid in the world who’d been in the third grade for three hundred years. The problem was, an inability to age doesn’t sit well with mortals. Margot and Shelby were forced to change lives every six to eight years to avoid the suspicion, the persecution, the tar and feathers, the crosses, the flames. Humans could be a real pain in the ass, no matter how advanced the advent of the future was purported to be. However, with the right craft and machinations, some opportunities lasted longer than others because of the powers they afforded to Margot. She was particularly attracted to law enforcement for this reason.



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Margot had achieved in many professions throughout the years, and by the time the C.I.A. recruited her in 2089, she was the deputy chief of police of one of the largest cities on the Eastern Seaboard. Among her powers was the ability to look into men’s minds and see their thoughts as quickly as they did. This came in handy more often than Margot could chronicle in her vast memory. It had become second nature to her, so much that she was always at risk of complicating situations by using her powers without realizing it. And beyond her powers, a lack of weaknesses helped her along the way as well. Neither her nor Shelby were bothered by the sunlight, nor did they require human blood (animal blood, even a big mac would do in a pinch..). If they were careful, they could stretch a good situation for a very long time. Margot’s stint in the C.I.A was just such a situation.



By 2090, the brilliant Margot had worked her way up into C.I.A Deputy Director in charge of a project wherein robots…clones were manufactured in mass to replace many human functions. The New-bots, as they were classified, were designed of simulated flesh and blood so identical to that of natural born humans they were not always indistinguishable by autopsy after death. Death was always by accident or, like humans, some experienced malfunctions deep within the complexities of their artificial genetic code.



The outshot was, the clones, beyond a few scuff marks, like a used automobile, never really aged. As the manufacture of clones reached millions, no one seemed to notice Marot and Shelby never aged either. They’d had outlived the need to move frequently. Among the clones they were invisible.



The New-bots had infinite uses. Pleasure-bots, cloned to resemble famous, beautiful humans from history, were purchased by the rich for obvious reasons. The remainder of the great mass of artificial beings were of the production line variety: Semi-flexible, composite faces, and with one voice each for female and one for males times a million. They served as servant-bots, doctor-bots, cop-bots, and of course soldiers called war-bots. The humans gave them intelligence equal to the average man or woman. Programmed to think and function as a natural human, they only needed a single enhancement pill daily in lieu of food, and never required sleep.



Margot and Shelby were delighted to learn they were edible.



“Do these guys have a soul?” Shelby asked Margot one evening while they both voraciously devoured a New-bot for dinner.



Margot looked up thoughtfully. “No, baby, they have a cyber consciousness which allows us to program them not to know fear, or in any way harm humans. But we’re working on that soul thing. This is like an artificial burger, except it actually tastes like the real thing,” and with that they both smiled and dived back into their meal, sucking blood out from the bone marrow of the artificial legs and pressing their hands into the flesh to force more of the blood to surface from lacerations that decorated his body to surface.



In 2091, the Confederation of China, Iran, and several of their allies, driven by political ideology, had moved into all territory south of the United States. Subtle at first, warfare by clandestine means allowed the Confederation to infiltrate much of the territory before fighting became general.



With Shelby in hand, Margot was dispatched to Quito, Ecuador, as Supreme Allied Commander of all forces. She justified Shelby by saying she was manufactured as a child war-bot designed to fit more easily into undercover operations. Ironically and to both their reliefs, the fastest test to validate her claim was to look for the life signs typically found in an eight-year-old girl. As Shelby had none, they were sent onwards with an impressed expression, everyone a little covetous that this beautiful woman also had the coolest toys. Margot knew that Shelby was no toy, but she certainly would come in handy if the shit hit the fan. Shortly after she had this thought, it did.



When outright war began, the U.S./Canadian Alliance responded in force. A million war-bots were rolled off the production lines and sent into open combat in several South American hotspots. The battle lines had bogged down on a line roughly following the equator. Aside from the few humans at upper levels, nearly every soldier in action was a war-bot.



Earth was electrified when, as war raged, in 2096, the first reports of alien landings drifted in from the Middle East. Then war-bots from Ecuador reported encountering soldiers four feet tall, with greenish skin and reptilian features with six fingered claws including an opposing claw-thumb, like hands. It was initially thought that these aliens and ships were just a new phase of warfare. Something one of the involved countries had cooked up as a way to battle the New-bots. Once it was finally accepted by every country that this new enemy was attacking everyone on every front, things changed rapidly.



The Chinese/Iran Confederation immediately offered to a temporary truce with the U.S./Canadian Alliance and the two forces agreed to join forces against the new off-world intruders. Because of her vast knowledge of language, esteemed history in interrogation and also partly because she could force any ignorant man to let her do whatever she desired with a slow blinking of her eyes, Margot was placed in charge of all operations.



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Shortly, a squad of war-bots brought in the first alien prisoner for Margot’s interrogations. She instantly saw she could read the thoughts of little green creatures as easily as human men, even though a wall of thick plastic separated them.



“What is your name?”



Her green prisoner wore a small medallion around its neck which emitted raspy sounds when the creature spoke. She recognized two things immediately. The device was a voice translator/modulator which enabled it to speak in English. Langley was perfecting a similar device. Second, these beings were clearly weak, militarily.



“I am called Izlak. I am General in Charge of the Third Index. We are from the planet known to earthlings as Zeta Zed Five at the corner of what you call the Milky Way. We did not come to make war. I was not captured. I volunteered to negotiate. Our feeble weapons are no match for those of Earth.”



Margot’s penetrating mind quickly disclosed two peculiarities of little green men. First, they were asexual. The strange creature sitting across from her was an “it” rather than “he” or “she”.



“Then, why…?”Margot had been exposed to man grotesque creatures and scenarios in her long life on earth, and she retained a graphic memory of every one. Nothing she’d encountered smelled as wretched as this creature and none was a more perfect match to the smell that it emanated. She struggled to keep her hand from her nose or to show any sign of displeasure.



“You must realize that we have traveled a long way with very little water. Hygiene was not a priority of our journey. I will explain why, but I apologize for my odor, nonetheless.” Margot, who had begun to lightly pace the room, stopped cold. Could he read her mind as well as she could read his? Or was he just reading facial cues? Either way, she was impressed. He didn’t seem to pick up on her thoughts now and instead continued to express his own. “ Drought has decimated the population of our planet. We come seeking water. Our systems report Earth is composed of 90 percent water of which most is salt water. We need salt water or our world will die.”



“Actually, 97.5 percent of earth’s water is saltwater. We have this global warming problem which is causing the oceans to rise. I’m pretty sure you can’t drink all of it.”



“We propose to send in transport vessels to carry salt water back and not have to fight.”



“But the time-frame of space travel? The trips would take many years.”



“We have developed a time travel system that compresses distance into time dimension at warp speed. For instance, our ships made this trip in about two weeks of earth time. And we can pay you for water.”



“Pay?”



“The soil of our planet is mostly gold…so much that it has no value in our society. From electronic intercepts, we know gold had great value on Earth. We could bring a load of gold each time we send our water transports.”



“How much gold…? Margot asked, her voice dripping with suspicion.



“One ton per transport ship. We would plan to send twenty ships on each trip.”



“General, you just bought yourself a lot of water.”



The frog creature studied Margot before speaking. “Your forces have captured about a hundred of our soldiers. Like yourselves, we have developed artificial beings, manufactured by laboratory cultured eggs. We call them the Eggex. We use them for food and do not wish to return to Beta Zed Five with the extra weight.”



“Uh…,” Margot stammered slightly. “We could keep them on as guests…possible integrate them into this godforsaken South American jungle.”



“Whatever you wish, Madam.”



Margot said thoughtfully, “Would there be any chance of bringing a few of those edible clones along on each trip?”



“As many as you need. You know, we have individuals like yourself on our homeworld, we could bring you along both ways, you could have as many of the Eggex as you like. You could meet a whole new kind of being that lives as you do. You could learn much from one another, and you have all of the time you need to do it.”



“Do they have schools?!” Shelby blurted out. She stared at the creature intensely, awaiting his answer with a look of pure hope. Margot’s head was racing. Individuals like her? Did he mean Vampires?



“I don’t know what those are, so no, I don’t think so.” And with this Shelby leaped for joy, a leap of such height that any chance Margot might have had at refuting the alien’s theories were gone for good. He merely stared at them, his strange face shaping into something akin to a smile. “I was hoping you’d come as well...”



   
   

 

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Gary Clifton, forty years a cop, has over sixty short fiction pieces published or pending with online sites including Bewildering Stories, Flashes in the Dark, Spinetingler, and Black Heart Mag. He's been shot at, shot, stabbed, sued and is currently retired to a dusty north Texas ranch. Clifton has an MS from Abilene Christian University. Gary’s stories can be found in the following issues of HelloHorror: Blood Passion appears in the January 2013 issue, Measure Twice, Cut Once appears in the April 2013 issue, Mother’s Nature appears in the August 2013 issue, Mind's Eye appears in the October 2013 issue, Sinning in the Rain appears in the December 2013 issue, Special Handling Required appears in the April 2014 issue, Queen Margot appears in the June 2014 issue, The Trial of Margot LePlatt appears in the Winter 2014-2015 issue, The Ace of Cooper Avenue appears in the Spring 2015 issue, and Bridge Work appears in the Summer 2016 issue of HelloHorror. All but one of Gary’s stories appearing thus far in HelloHorror have been part of the Margot LePlatt series. Read more of Gary's work at his new blog, Bareknuckle Thoughts.



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