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The Blue Meanie stared. Waited.
He was smaller than a horse, maybe pony-size. Four legs without evident feet. Powerpuff Girl legs. Two serpentine tentacles, one on each side of his low-slung grazer's head.
He might have been made out of liquid night, so black that he was blue only where light touched him directly. He had eyes, one on each side, again like a horse, but there was no life in those eyes, no sign of a soul burning through.
Jobs was probably right: It was a suit of some sort, Violet thought. Something was alive inside it, something presumably more vulnerable than this frightening apparition.
One tentacle seemed to have chopped in half. The midnight armor was scarred and scraped. The rocket-powered hind legs moved stiffly; both were charred black. The Meanie had definitely experienced some trouble. But he didn't look as bad as he should, for slamming into a stone wall.
The creature waved its tentacles in quick, intricate patterns. Maybe some kind of language, communication. But when none of the humans responded in kind it stopped and simply waited.
"Go ahead," Mo'Steel urged Jobs. "Talk to it."
"I don't know what to say," Jobs admitted.
"We come in peace?" Olga suggested.
"Actually, we do," Jobs said.
Violet took a step forward. "He may recognize that I'm female. Maybe that will reassure him." That was her stated reason for taking the lead. The real reason was that she felt she wasn't carrying her part of the burden. With her finger she couldn't carry the stretcher, and that had meant the two boys had done most of the work. Violet was perfectly content with the notion that men and women had different abilities, different duties, and different avocations. But she wasn't content being a burden. She had to contribute something beyond her ability to recognize the artistic antecedents of the environments.
Besides, she didn't feel that the Meanie was threatening. It was wary, yes. But it wasn't interested in killing her.
"Hello, I'm Miss Blake. Violet Blake." She pointed slowly to herself and repeated, "Miss Blake. I'm very pleased to make your acquaintance."
The Meanine watched with its soulless eyes.
he pointed at Jobs and said his name, at Mo'Steel and Olga, saying each name in turn. Then at Billy Weir.
She held her hands open, the universal sign (she hoped) that she carried no weapon and meant no harm.
The Meanie stared.
"Hey," Jobs said.
"What?" Violet snapped, frustrated by the alien's total lack of response.
"It's Billy," Jobs said.
Violet stepped back two steps, turned, hoping this wasn't some sort of culturally offensive move, and looked at Billy Weir.
His eyes were closed. His mouth was moving. Like slow, slow speech.
From the corner of her eye, Violet caught movement. The Blue Meanie. It rose slowly, standing awkwardly on its hind legs. This revealed a flat oval panel on the front of its suit, on its chest, assuming always it had a chest.
Violet looked from Billy to the alien. There was no beam of light between them, nothing anyone could see, but something was happening.
And then, looking past Billy, through the rectangular door, through the distant peaked archway beyond, through the nearly forgotten arch that led outside, Violet saw something that brought her heart to her throat.
In a blaze of orange and red, the far-off sun was setting.
Darkness obliterated the outer door. Night had fallen. The darkness did not deepen inside the tower, but night was felt nevertheless.
From all around now, from every shadowed corner, came sounds of shuffling, movement, dragging and now malevolent whispering and sharp, hysterical tittering laughter that rose to a shriek.
"What the..." Olga cried.
"Someone's there," Jobs hissed.
Filling the rectangular doorway and cutting off any escape, standing on the steps, edging into the room, came every nightmare of a brilliant, twisted, poisoned mind.
Demons and monsters.
"Last Judgment," Violet whispered.