Beetle Juice & Oil

Writing Prompt: You stand before the entrance of a cave with your tool box. The cables led you there and you know that a giant, injured beetle waits for you. This has been the most difficult IT house call you’ve ever had.

Have you tried turning it off and on again?

Dale had trekked over an hour by foot through dense, tropical jungle. His face was red hot and muddied, shoulders aching from the weight of his tool box (a little red chest with a bar for a handle) and legs throbbing from the last quarter mile he’d had to run.

Why was he running? He’d upset a scoop of Pelicans who had been feasting eagerly upon the carcass of a beached Whale (strangely enough there was no water for a good many miles around, and even then there were only rivers – so Dale decided the only plausible explanation was that the Whale had dropped from the sky). He hadn’t meant to disturb the birds, he’d in fact been trying to creep around the snapping beaks using the delicate cover of large leaves that hung down from above. But the leaves had blinded him, and through no more than a terrible sense of direction he’d ended up walking right into the heart of their feasting. By the time he’d realised his mistake he was already knee deep in the Whale’s stomach…

He’d managed to lose the birds, eventually (and thank the Gods), and now stood in the wake of a cave, wires weaving like snakes deep into the dark. A humid breeze like heavy breath sang from within, the cave mouth made all the more menacing by the stalactites and stalagmites leering behind the limestone lips.

A steady drip, drip, dripping sounded off in the distance, and there carried on the humid air a gentle groaning. No prizes for guessing who that it is. Dale groaned. The Beetle. Poor sod. But why me?

Why me? That was easy enough to answer. James was off sick today (conveniently enough considering today was the long anticipated release date of Patch* the sequel to Hook-up* and its predecessor Plug-in*), and Dale was the only other technician trained in Genetic Cybernetics.

The fact that Dale was trained didn’t mean he had to go, he could easily of refused on account that he wasn’t contracted to cover the f*cking Amazon, and he probably would have if it hadn’t been Natasha askig him to go. Please Dale, for me? Natasha new he liked her, but she was otherwise engaged (quite literally, to an arrogant little twerp named Phillip Masters – you know, tall guy, spectacles, about a billion dollars nett worth…).

*Plug-in was a film about the creation of a Global-Network to which the World at large would eventually transcend into (there’d be no more wanting among a World with endless resources, resources that were produced by figments of code). *Hook-up was the inevitable follow up film in which everything went horrendously wrong. And so *Patch was the finale in which this online World would either thrive and resolve its Network Issues or in which it would ultimately crash and burn.

Taking one last look at the sun as it waned beyond the head of the cave, Dale pulled down his gas mask, and in he went.

The cave wasn’t entirely bad, the smell at least was filtered out by his mask. It was cloudy, a dusty sort of fog simmered up from the damp grounds below. Mushroom caps and lolling orchids (far bigger than they ought to be) sprouted from the sodden dirt. What little light there was came on account of the tiny, scuttling critters who had been installed with back-lit skin, and the soft, golden rays of sun that peaked in through what scarce holes overhead there were. Moss infected the walls and the ceiling, a strange purple colour that hissed and bubbled, and somewhere far off in the distant echoed the groaning of the giant Beetle. Poor sod.

Four Hundred and Forty Four… Four Hundred and Forty Four. Dale carefully scanned each bolt, iron door he passed, sending a flashlight over the door’s number. Room 404, that was were the Beetle had said it would be waiting. The difficult part was making out the numbers in the gloom, some were partly obscured (so a 6 might have looked like a 5) and others were so heavily laden with grime that they were simply unreadable. Well, needless to say Dale didn’t find room 404 on his first attempt.

Room 304:

“Oh Gods, I’m so sorry!” Dale threw a hand over his face, covering his eyes.

He’d walked in on two now rather surprised looking Orangutans halfway through an upload. One’s USB stick stuck firmly in the others Receiving Port (a primitive act to witness considering the USB had long since been made redundant in the more economic parts of the World… those would be those parts with less jungle and more supermarkets).

“Do you mind!” one of the Orangutans screamed. The other gave Dale an inviting little wink.

“I’m looking for 404.” Dale said, and instantly regretted it. Why did he think it was a good idea to stop and chat to these creatures he’d so rudely disturbed?

“That way.” the Orangutan roared, pointing a figure Dale couldn’t hope to see behind the hand that covered his face, “Now get out!” the Orangutan hurled a steaming heap of feces at Dale, hitting him in the back of the head as he fled. Splat.

That’s great. Just my luck.

Room 405:

So close… Dale wandered in this time on an elderly lady that lived alone in the forest. She mistook Dale for her Grandson coming to visit, and no matter how hard he argued Dale couldn’t convince her otherwise (she was hard of hearing and blind as a bat).

I could bore you with descriptions of the many soups and insectile dishes the old lady served (and Dale unfortunately had to eat… well he couldn’t be rude to the old lady now could he!), and I could explain how Dale became engrossed in a game of Bridge that lasted far longer than it should have… but all that’s really worth knowing is that if Dale achieved nothing more on that day he had at least made a very lonely old lady considerably more happy.

That was right up until he started winning at their game of Bridge, then the old lady decided Dale couldn’t be her Grandson after all. She chased the strange man out with a frying pan in one hand and an adult diaper in in the other. This was the second time that day Dale was struck in the back by a steaming pile of feces. Splat.

“Please, Gods please.” Dale stood face to face with a bolted door that read Four Smudge Four. There was a one in ten chance this would be his final stop (one in nine now he knew where 405 was). He lifted the hatch under which the maintenance lock was stowed – each door worked on a three part security system; first a scan of your finger and thumb, second a five digit code from your card reader, and finally a strand of DNA to confirm your identity (blood, hair, toenail, whichever came easiest).

The heavy bolt clicked across, and the iron door creaked open. Darkness spilled out from beyond a room that was entirely caked in shadow. Not an insect to be seen. Certainly not a giant Beetle. But the groaning, the deep, shivering sound and clacking of needle-pointed feet, it was louder here.

Clearing the misted screen of his gas mask Dale steeped into the room, groped around for a switch and then…

Light from above! Lamps of rounded steel hanging from thick, black wires shone out over the enormous room. There were desks by the dozen, each with its own bank of screens and bulky towers. Small creatures (every one obscured by a fluffy robe and hood) sat at the desks with a coffee cup in hand. Along the walls projected images of internal circuitry glitched on and off, several of the little creatures in fluffy robs scratched at their hoods examining the data, sipping nonchalantly at their hot beverages. There was music, too, coming from a lone radio that buzzed as it sang (that’s still better reception than I thought you’d get down here).

Dale tried approaching the strange creatures in robes, but each one waved him away, turning their face so that he couldn’t quite see beneath their hood. One and all they pointed him on toward a ladder that led down a tight hole and into the room below.

I sure as hell don’t get paid enough for this sh*t. Dale sighed, but the truth of the matter was he did. IT Technicians were paid incredibly well in a World that had become more or less reliant on them. But that didn’t mean Dale was any less likely to complain. After all, when is enough truly enough?

With tool box carefully in hand Dale descended the ladder, and when his feet finally came to touch the ground he found…

A pit like room with curved walls creating a sphere lined with soft wool. It was hot, so hot, too hot. There was a blanket in place of carpet and the ground trembled beneath Dale’s feet.

“It’s about time.” a synthetic voice quipped, “Half an hours wait time. That’s what they told me. It’s been half a bloody day! Do you know how uncomfortable it is, to be stuck in a pit with a fever all because your damned internal fans have given up the ghost! Very uncomfortable. I say, what’s the point in after care if your stuck waiting half a bloody day for assistance?”

“I’m sorry I’m late, but you wouldn’t believe the trouble I had getting here…”

“If I wouldn’t believe it, then spare me the details. I don’t need excuses, I need fixing!” and with that the blanket was thrown free, Dale tossed aside to the edge of the room, and the giant Beetle revealed.

It was an obsidian coloured beast about the size of a house. Two copper antennae protruded from out its skull, beneath which the creature’s mother board was hidden. Legs of carbon fibre sprouted round its thick-shelled body, and the constant thrum of overworked and under-cooled machinery rose out from the heart of the Beetle.

“Go on then, what are you waiting for?” the Beetle’s eyes were an unsettling sight, two orbs of glassy red that flashed hungrily at Dale.

“Your fans.” Dale hurried through his tool box, searching for the plans of the Beetle.

“Let me save you the trouble.” it wriggled its rear, “Back there.” the Beetle seemed to smile at Dale, taunting him.

“Really?” Dale’s face dropped, as if it wasn’t enough to be struck in the back by feces, now he’d have to go digging through it (for even though the Beetle was mostly machine, it was still in part a living organism, too).

There was a moments silence, then the Beetle burst into laughter, “Of course not! What a poor design that would have been.” it rolled over to reveal its shiny under-belly and a network of hatches, “Fifth from the right.”

Dale climbed aboard and hauled himself to the hatch the Beetle had indicated.

“Stop that, I’m ticklish you know.” the Beetle giggled as Dale worked on unscrewing the hatch.

When it was finally open Dale was faced with two giant, lifeless fans. They were overly hot and a faint steam rose up off of them. There was something lodged between the units, further inside. A few sparks in the dark told him too that wires had been frayed.

“I think there’s something stuck in here.”

“Could be.” the Bettle shrugged.

Dale climbed into the hatch, descending between the two giant fans (only after ensuring he’d switched them off, temporarily). The fan’s blades were razor sharp and gleamed mercilessly even in the dark.

“What in the hell is that?” Dale had reached the blockage, it was… “A mouse?”

Ground up into a heap of scrap meal, the rodent was still about the size of Dale’s head, with a thin trail of a tail and two button shaped ears.

“I can’t help it.” the Beetle explained, “They just taste so Gods-damned good!”

“How many?” Dale asked spying another and another, “How many have you eaten?”

“Oh, no more than a thousand… for breakfast that is. But lunch? Well I was stuck down here, bored and hungry, all I could do was eat!”

“How many altogether?” Dale looked horrified at the grave of half-head-sized mice littered further inside the giant Beetle.

The Beetle searched its expansive memory and came back with, “Twelve thousand, four hundred and thirty seven.” then there was crunching sound, followed by giggling, “Make that thirty eight!”

“Stop eating them!” Dale cried.

It was going to be a very long night.

Copyright © K R Perry 2019

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