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Thursday, 2016-12-08, 3:02 AM
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CLEAR UNDERSTANDING

Decoy

Short Sci-Fi Stories

    It was one of those rare English summer days when the sun actually shone. In fact it had been shining now for three consecutive days, and that afternoon was delightfully calm and dream-like.
     I’d been working in the garden, rather more idle than industriously, drifting aimlessly through the afternoon as it moved towards evening.
     Standing at the bench towards the rear of the garage, I was tidying some tools I’d used earlier in the day. From this position, I was able to see a thin slice of my neighbour’s garden through a small window, which itself lay hidden admidst an old and densely overgrown lilac tree.
     With uncharacteristic vigour, my somewhat obese neighbour was skipping across the lawn towards an electric mower. The machine had been left unattended and had begun to snare its own cable as it moved.
     Hurriedly arriving at the scene, my neighbour foolishly clasped at the cable just as it became caught in the rotor. Automatically my eyes slammed shut in horror as the sounds of the spinning mower blades altered and then stopped.
     In the silence, long seconds passed. I’d absolutely no stomach for accidents, but realized that my help was probably all there was at close hand. I slowly opened one eye. With caution I opened the other one, and then let them both focus on the scene.
     My first impression as I recall, was that I must be dreaming. I’d experienced similar feelings just twice before in my life, one was at the sighting of a UFO, and the other was after having seen a ghost. Both these encounters had left me with a feeling of unreality, for although I’d never discounted either phenomena, actually seeing them, was quite another matter.
     Out of the garage window, and unseen by my neighbour, I was witness to an incomprehensible event. There was no blood. There was no unconscious man or pain stricken face. Instead there was a man on his hands and knees, stuffing fingers and bits of fingers, into his trouser pockets.
     Across the lawn he scurried, furtively secreting disembodied digits into his pockets. Every so often he’d pause, look around to see if he’d been observed, and then carry on.
     Suddenly the whole event had passed. All evidence had been removed, and a kind of tranquility returned. My neighbour had now left the mower in the garden, and returned to his house for purposes unknown.
     I felt an urge to run inside and tell my wife, but what could I say. Instead, I left the garage, and in a daze, found myself standing on my side of the fence, next to the scene of the accident.
     What was happening here? Could it be that I’d never noticed Bob’s artificial hand. We’d played cards on many occasions, and just last week he’d helped me with a very intricate job on the car; nothing made sense.
     With a start, my concentration was shattered with the sensation of something tugging at my knee. Leaping back from the fence, I feared that a bee night have been resting between its uneven panels and was about to sting me.
     I wish it had been a bee. Resting in between two gapping panels was a finger, and a finger that had a moving joint. As I watched, it twitched erratically like a spiders severed leg might do.
     I moved closer to discover the true synthetic nature of its construction. It was indeed artificial, but with a complexity of manufacture approaching that of a real finger.
    Within its interior, lay a multitude of very thin and fibre like threads. The threads converged and separated in neat order alongside a shiny central metal framework; the detail was stunning.
    Something really odd was afoot here, and Bob’s earlier secrecy at collecting the debris, gave a very sinister feel to the whole occasion. I knew he’d be back. Inside the house he’d be taking stock of the recovered components of his shattered hand, and this piece would be missed and its recovery sought.
     Taking the still squirming finger rather gingerly between two of mine; I tossed it back over the fence. I then left the garden, carefully making sure that both my presence and departure remained unobserved.
     Moving into the house and the kitchen, I encountered my wife reading at the table. Feigning normality, I enquired as to how her book was going, before hurriedly climbing the stairs to the first floor.
     On the landing, I paused to consider the motives behind my concealing the events from my wife. She had a very sharp and open mind, and was bound to share my curiosity, but the emotions with me at present were akin more to fear than curiousity. I somehow needed to understand more fully the things I’d seen, before presenting them to her.
     Moving into the central bedroom, I climbed another flight of stairs to the loft. From here I’d be able to see Bob, should he return for the missing finger.
     My wait was not for long, as almost immediately he appeared thirty feet below me. He seemed casual; too casual. First he idled across the patio to inspect some flowers, and then moving further into the garden, he assumed the appearance of one simply taking the air.
     Another flower inspection occurred, followed by more air taking. Slowly his round about trip led him to where I knew it would, and to where the missing finger might be found.
     A small device appeared in his hand from his pocket. Upon the device were knobs and dials which he manipulated perfectly with his reconstructed right hand. 
    Slowly, and with the gadget at right angles to his body, he turned, scanning the area for the lost item. Half way through a sweep and stopping suddenly, he took two steps forward to secrete the found object in his pocket.
    Now, with tensions melted, his composure returned. Feigning idleness with increased conviction, he sprawled aimlessly against the garden wall in apparent summer evening bliss. Shortly, after a period too brief to fool an observer, he scurried homeward to finalize repairs.
     Moving back from the window, I slumped heavily onto the sofa. I’d lived next door to this guy for ten years, yet suddenly we’d become strangers or worse.
     Rising from the chair, I began pacing up and down the room, wrestling with the dilemma. No matter how I tried, the image of severed fingers and Bob’s undercover behavior, foiled all attempts at making any sense.
     Now at a complete loss to understand anything, I returned to the garden and to the garage. Wishing to avoid detection, I used some high shrubs as cover, and entered the garage via the rear door.
     From Bob’s house, the up and over style door to my garage being closed, gave no hint of any viewing vantage point for a person within. He would have no reason to suspect close surveillance of his household by myself, and it was with uneasy necessity, that I began such covert operations.
     Peering through a knothole, I could see Bob and his wife sitting in the living room. I saw him reach up to pull the string of a wall light, and then turn the page of a newspaper he was reading. His wife Anne, in the far corner of the room, appeared to be watching television and the changing pictures threw a flickering light onto their living room wall.
     All seemed quite normal, with their separate pursuits giving rise to sporadic comment and an exchange of views. Putting the newspaper aside, Bob strode over to the television and changed channels, returning to his chair via the cocktail cabinet.
     Minutes later, Anne rose from her chair and left the room. Bob continued to watch the screen, having discarded the newspaper in favour of the channel he’d selected. His wife then returned with sandwiches, which were placed out of view on a low coffee table.
     Bob and I had a shared driveway and in the street outside, visible from my place of concealment. I could see two door to door salesmen approaching our homes. Arriving at the end of the drive, the two split up with the clear intention of hitting both households simultaneously.
     First my doorbell faintly rang in the distance, and then, judging by Bob’s sudden movement; so had his. Getting up, Bob left the room to answer the door, leaving Anne watching T.V.
     Studying her closely, I began to notice a peculiar sequence of head movements that I’d never seen her doing before. First her head would tilt down and turn about three inches to the left. After about seven seconds or so, her gaze would rise, giving an impression of pre-occupation or reflection. Moments later, the head would rotate to the right, pause briefly, and then return to begin the entire sequence again.
     Confused yet mesmerized, I looked on as the cycle ran over and over again. This was not an exercise to alleviate a bad neck; it was something altogether different.
     Bob returned. His entrance seemed to snap Anne out of the cycle, although rather oddly, he appeared not to comment on the salesmen’s visit. Falling back into his chair, Bob reached up and switched off the wall light. Realizing it was already on, but now off, he switched it on again.
     Picking up the newspaper, he began reading and turning the pages as Anne continued to watch television. After a short while, Bob put the newspaper aside, and strode over to the T.V to change channels, returning to his chair via the cocktail cabinet.
     Minutes later, Anne rose from her chair and left the room. Bob continued to watch the screen, having discarded the newspaper in favour of the channel he’d selected. His wife then returned with sandwiches, which were placed out of view on a low coffee table.
     Over the next fifteen minutes I watched horrified as the entire scene was repeated. Every movement I saw, with the exception of the salesmen’s interruption, was identical in both appearance and duration to that of the previous fifteen minutes. It was clear that the whole charade before me was set up to deceive the casual observer.
     How many times had I fallen prey to this illusion, and what on earth was behind it. That Bob had a mechanical hand, albeit of unearthly dexterity and construction, was no longer in question. But the motives behind this covering up of the accident, and the robotic behavioral patterns, were completely beyond me.
     I’d have to leave soon. It was getting dark and an hour or so had passed since I’d begun my hidden observations from the garage. Soon my wife would begin to suspect something, but I was still so confused and therefore reluctant to discuss these events with her.
     How could I discuss something that I couldn’t believe I’d seen myself? Whilst we were very close and always talked everything over; this was different. Quite frankly I was scared and didn’t want to alarm her.
     I left the garage using the same hidden route. Bob had been oblivious to my watching, and I wished to maintain this edge until I understood more of the situation. Arriving back indoors, I made my excuses and after taking a shower, settled down for a few hours T.V.
     Sitting there in front of the screen, I found that I was completely unable to concentrate, as I tried and tried again to make sense of the day. How could I possibly focus on anything until I’d solved this riddle? What could I say to my neighbours next time we met, and would they see through any attempt I could make at normality.
    Perhaps I could ignore today. I could carry on as if nothing had happened; it was really nothing to do with me after all. Even now as I tried to find a way of living with things, it all seemed so unreal. Twice my wife enquired as to whether I felt all right, and twice I assured her that I’d never felt better.
     At last, courtesy of an hilarious T.V play, I was able to relax. It was not until lights out in bed that my thoughts again returned to Bob and his wife. In the dark and quiet of the night, the weight of the day grew and grew.
     How slowly the hours passed. Although exhausted, it must have been at least 3:30 am before sleep finally came, and even then the sights and sound of the day still haunted me. I tossed and turned, woke and slept until dawn.
     In a daze I suddenly found myself in the garden. I’d risen and half consciously made a cup of tea, to now find myself waking up on a garden bench. It was such a lovely day and at an hour I’ often thought about but rarely experienced at the weekend.
     Not a single breath of wind touched the trees. Overhead the unique sound of an airliner at the dawn of a perfect day, somehow enhanced the peace. Against my better judgement, I lit a cigarette, smoked it, and lit another.
     The rear door to the garage was ajar. I knew Bob and Ann to be early risers, and felt compelled to resume surveillance at the knothole in the door at the front of the building. Slowly, and with automatic stealth, I took up the same position as I’d occupied last evening.
     With my nose pressed up against the door, and with one eye closed, I peered through the hole. The only sound was that of half restricted breathing as air forced its way into my misshapen snout.
     The sight that greeted me, was a far cry from yesterday’s horrors. There before me, and tidying up the living room, was a very naked Anne. With heightened volume, the increased demand for air through my nostrils was now equaled by the pounding of a rampant heart as it rose to the occasion.
     Unable and unwilling to avert my gaze; I looked on. With breathing stabilized it was now possible for me to regain composure and, nakedness aside, to regain purpose. How would it seem if my wife were to discover me now I thought? To add a bizarre story of android neighbours to what appeared to be a blatant case of peeping Tom, would be to add insult to injury surely.
     Moments later, the joy of her naked form died as the justification of my predicament was reborn. The "woman" had no navel or genitalia. Furthermore her breasts bore no nipples and her lower front abdomen was harshly segmented.
     What on earth was she? At that moment, and fully clothed thank god, Bob had burst into the room. He appeared irate and waved his hands around frantically at discovering her naked in front of a window. She responded with natural surprise and it seemed that she too was horror-stricken at her own absent-mindedness.
     As I watched, the argument subsided. Bob looking at his watch and gesticulating outside, was confident that this indiscretion, being so early in the day, had gone unnoticed. As they spoke Anne’s body began to change colour. The contours of her shape altered as well, and in a moment without leaving the room or dressing; she was fully clothed.
     I took a large step backwards and sat down. Her clothes had grown around her as she stood there. The science of the severed fingers, and now this, were events simply beyond the knowledge of this planet. Perhaps they were aliens infiltrating our ranks or maybe the science did exist here and they were an advanced party of an earthly force.
     Was I losing my mind? Maybe they’re not hostile at all, but why try to avoid discovery of the damaged hand and why create the deception of normal living. What agenda were they following and how could I gain further insight without risking discovery or alarming my wife.
     Throughout my life I’d been accused and perhaps guilty of always finding mysteries where there were none. My fascination with fringe subjects and scientific anomalies had earned me the reputation of being a little eccentric. But the attempts of scientists to explain the unknown with the use of known laws, to me seemed to present even more ridiculous solutions than mine.
     Here was surely a mystery not of my making. I had not invented an outrageous solution to solve a straightforward problem, but had witnessed an outrageous problem at first hand. From here I would have to find ways of uncovering the meanings of what I’d seen.
     Resisting the temptation of the knothole, I stood up. With even more stealth than before, I regained the security of my own house and took a cup of tea to my still sleeping wife. A strange composure, left me feeling calm with a solemn purpose now driving me. Strangely I felt much more able to maintain an apparently calm exterior than I had last night.
     Returning to the living room I began to formulate some ideas. I would begin by trying to find out more details on the backgrounds of their friends. This may point me towards understanding their motives. They must have a plan I felt sure.
     In the garage I had an infrared night vision system that my company had developed. I’d borrowed this kit out of boyish curiosity and never imagined using it for real purposes. It should reveal more about the structures and functions of Bob and Anne.
     First and foremost I must remain careful. I had no idea as to the plans of my neighbours, and would have to regard their secrecy and diversions as a sign of hostility. If they discovered my interest in them and found out that I knew things about them they’d been trying to conceal; life could get a little tricky perhaps.
     It was reassuring to have found weaknesses in their armour. For me even to have been allowed to stumble over their secrets was a sign that they were at least not all powerful. I’d even studied them further, gaining more knowledge since then and still remained undetected.
     Was this comforting or was it a sign of indifference I wondered. It could be that their secrecy was desired but not essential. They could have contingency plans in the event of disruptive interference. Maybe they would simply rub me out or more likely they could replace me with one of their own.
     This last thought hung in my mind. Maybe this was their plan of infiltration. They might be slowly replacing everybody on earth with robots. Could it be that the androids themselves were the puppets of an alien force, or were they real life forms in their own right.
     Suddenly the magnitude of my thoughts came home to me. I physically jumped as the reality of this impossible situation reaffirmed its presence. To be faced with such realities and to find myself engulfed in various scenarios and solutions was a terrifying dilemma to be in. How I wished to wake up and be free of this nightmare.
     After an uneventful breakfast, I washed the dishes as my wife got herself ready for the day. Our routines on such a lovely day would be to follow a few personal pursuits and to join each other for a spot of sun bathing around noon. Because of my unusually early start to the day, I'd now acquired several useful hours before our midday break.
     I found myself in the garage making ready the infrared system. After nightfall I would experiment with the device and like all women, my wife would not suspect the sudden urge as being anything other than a typically abnormal male activity.
     My garage was just like any other. It was an Aladdin’s cave of memorabilia in the form of curiosities and junk. In my search for the separated components of the infrared headset, I stumbled across another potentially useful item.
     The box of tricks I’d unearthed was an audio signal generator. It could produce sounds from way below human hearing to those way above. Remembering how it could be used to spook a dog, I wondered what effect it might have on Bob.
     Twenty minutes later, having found and installed a plug; the sound generator was ready for use. I’d positioned it outside of the garage facing Bob’s house with its wire trailing under the closed door, behind which I took up my usual observation post.
     I threw a switch and the machine began to operate. On the front of the control panel was a dial indicating which sound frequency had been selected. I knew nothing of the science of sound but saw that the current wavelength was well below the human range of hearing as indicated by the marker.
     The upper extreme of human sound detection was also shown by another marker. It would be interesting to note how my targets responded to settings outside of the band to which humans should respond.
     I looked and waited. Although the sound made by the machine was inaudible to me, some aluminum ladders began to vibrate on the wall. At present there was no sign of either Bob or Anne and I wondered if they were able to detect this sound.
     Five minutes passed. The noise of the ladders rattling and the lack of response from my targets, led me to altering the frequency. I turned the dial fractionally to the right, ensuring that the sounds produced were still below human detection.
     The ladders fell silent, replaced by a tinkling paint brush in a glass jar to my right. The door against my face also began to harmonize with this setting, and I could feel its vibrations against my skin.
     Bob appeared in the living room. His expression was one of surprise and curiosity. He looked directly at the sound generator and his eyes followed the wire to the garage door behind which I stood. His gaze had me feeling like the door was transparent.
     What would be my excuse if he should question me as to the purpose of my experiment? He knew, as did my wife, that I was prone to purposeless activities, but would this stimulate an awareness of my suspicions towards him.
     I altered the dial slightly and doubled the intensity. Anne had now entered the room and they began to talk. The subject was undoubtedly about the sounds I was making and Anne in particular appeared more than a little distressed by the latest setting.
     I doubled the intensity again. Anne’s eyes slammed shut and her hands now covered her ears. There was a smash as the glass containing the paintbrush fell to the floor. Bob’s hands also now rose to cover his ears, but his eyes remained open and focused on the sound generator.
     What happened next was as inexplicable as it was terrifying. My right leg moved on its own. Then my left foot rose and I was walking involuntarily towards the power socket that drove the sound generator. I bent down and switched off the machine.
     Still against my will, I then opened the garage door. As the sunlight poured in I regained use of my body but felt an irrational urge to begin servicing my bicycle. Just last week I’d spent some hours oiling and adjusting cables, yet here I was doing the same again.
     Half an hour passed. Inwardly I was asking myself repeatedly, "Why am I servicing the bike, it doesn’t need doing". I could ask the question but where the answer should have been came the same question again. I was in a daze. I watched as my hands worked but felt like an observer rather than a participant.
     At last my thoughts returned. Although I’d never blacked out, it was as if I’d been drugged. It had been similar to a visit to the dentist and having that medication which leaves you awake yet indifferent to the horrors of extraction.
     Casually so as to not raise suspicions, I abandoned the cycle maintenance. It occurred to me that the involuntary shutting off of the sound generators power, and the fiasco that followed, had to be the work of Bob. I could now add another super natural feather to his growing cap of abilities.
     My caution stemmed from not knowing if he knew that I knew. He could not know for sure, I hoped, whether the sound experiment was directed at his house or whether it was simply me fiddling around. I was banking on no matter how sophisticated a technology may be, the owners could never truly learn the contents of another person’s mind.
     With some trepidation I now unplugged the machine. Suspecting that I was now myself being observed, I took the mains flex and coiled it around the body of the generator. Next I pushed the device across the floor to a pile of junk that Bob new was my store of unwanted items. Bob knew this pile to be destined for the council dump and often joked at the size of it.
     I could feel their gaze on the back of my neck. Pretending to notice them out of the corner of my eye, I waved at Bob and Anne as they stood in the living room. Her face still bore a scowl of discomfort and annoyance. Bobs face also was a long way from its normal easy going expression, but both he and Anne immediately snapped back into happy neighbour mode and waved back smiling.
     Returning their smile I carried on tidying the garage. I felt reasonably confident that my covering up operations had created enough doubt for my neighbours to credit me with ignorance on the entire matter. I hoped I was right.
    That night I still had plans for the night vision scope. Unlike the sound generator, it read emissions coming from its prey as opposed to sending out signals. I was sure that my second experiment would be less catastrophic than the first and that it should provide some positive information. I would not however be discarding the sound machine, as its effects could yet prove to be a useful tool.
     As the morning progressed I made it my business to be seen. I wanted to capitalize on my being perceived as unaware and so trotted up and down the garden doing a multitude of minor chores.
     Every so often I’d catch a glimpse of either Bob or Anne. I didn’t have the courage to make a study, but felt their appearance and activities were following a repetitive sequence.
     As before but with a longer cycle time, perhaps for daytime use, they seemed to be repeating themselves. Anne, over the last two hours, had adjusted the upstairs curtains at least three, maybe four times. Bob, who had disappeared into his shed an hour ago, could be heard to hammer three times and then drill a hole. Certain constructions did warrant repeat actions, but I was not convinced.
     Sun bathing time arrived. It was noon and the clear skies dictated my presence on the patio. Despite my newfound reality, I was surprised to be still able to enjoy the break. Conversation with my wife was light, yet full of dreams to discuss as was usual.
     At twelve ten and thirty seconds, Bob hammered three times and drilled a hole. At twelve thirty and thirty seconds, Bob hammered three times and drilled a hole. Twenty minutes to the second later, he did it again. I looked at my wife wondering if the coin would drop; it didn’t.
     What a splendid day it was. Not a cloud in the sky or a breath of wind. If only I wasn’t burdened with this nightmare. How I wished to discuss it with Caroline and how I wished even more than ever that I’d wake up and find myself in bed with nothing but a bad dream to contend with.
     I had this mad urge to confront Bob himself. What might happen if I did god only knows. I would really have to wait until I knew more, but to find out more would require me to devise ways of doing so.
     There was the night vision device of course. I’d use that tonight, but I already knew that Bob and Anne were androids. I had to find out what they were up to, and would surely have to get some recording gear, or myself into their house somehow.
     What exactly were they planning I wondered. They would not be acting out repetitious scenarios all day, and all night. There must be a time when they talk about or work on their purposes here, and I felt it must be connected to Bob’s special projects room.
     Last spring Bob and I had rewired his house. In one of their four bedrooms I’d been tasked with installing no less than ten power sockets. Whilst I worked on this. Both Bob and Anne were fixing in satellite cables and all manner of bizarre communications wiring.
     From outside, their house looked more like a radio astronomy facility than an average suburban dwelling. When quizzed about the equipment, Bob would simply develop a cheeky grin and say, "It’s my special projects room". I’d assumed that he had more money than sense; that is until now.
     I remember how odd it was that the window to this room was changed to frosted glass. I half accepted the explanation of the need to reduce glare on his V.D.U’s, but wondered about the intensity of such work. He just didn’t seem the type to pursue an interest in computers, and Anne was openly hostile and irritated by this latest consumer fad.
     How strange also was the motorized satellite dish. The salesman had failed to convince them that the regular coordinates would meet all their requirements. A special man, rather strange looking I thought, was hired to install a dish that could be aimed to any part of the sky.
     What was in that room? When ever I’ve asked since I get that same cheeky grin and the reply, "When its ready I’ll show you". In the light of recent developments, I was no longer sure that I wanted to see inside.
    The word, "When its ready", sent my thoughts reeling; ready for what? And the words, "I’ll show you", now seemed particularly directed towards me, and me alone. Surely this room couldn’t be some kind of alien dungeon for torturing humans could it? The cheeky grin would imply a more benevolent use, and it was after all clearly tinged with anticipated pride at the eventual unveiling ceremony.
     Last month Caroline and I were inside their house for drinks one evening. I excitedly thought I’d take a preview at the room whilst visiting the toilet, but was disappointed. The door that used to access the rear facing upstairs room was gone. Furthermore an excursion into neighbouring rooms revealed no entrance door at all.
     I didn’t comment on the missing door that night. The motive behind my silence was simply to evade that sickening grin. I could only assume access to the room was now gained from the loft area and could see Bob’s amusement at my confusion, but curiously he didn’t comment.
     How on earth could I get to see that room? And how might I set up some listening gear or even video equipment inside their house. Actually, even as the thought occurred to me, a solution came to mind on how I could possibly go about it.
     Anne was a passionate music lover and we often swapped C.D’s. I could secrete my headphone transmitter in their house by leaving it plugged into their music centre, I would then only have to leave the unit on auxiliary microphone setting, to be able to listen to what they were saying from inside my own home.
     I toyed with this idea for a while. Discovery could be embarrassing or even dangerous. Perhaps I could operate the switch to the auxiliary microphone remotely from the garage. The chairs in which they sat, faced away from the music centre and so switching would go undetected.
    To me this plan seemed feasible. That afternoon I would pop in and leave Anne a C.D to play. I’d play a short piece of it and forget to remove my headphone transmitter. Leaving the unit would not be a provocative oversight and the listening in plan could not be suspected.
     Two domestic cats spitting and hissing raced across the patio waking me from my plans. Caroline had almost fallen from her sun lounger with the shock. "Bloody cats", she swore; "Frightened the life out of me".
     Looking at the time, we saw that two hours had slipped by. As was customary I got up to fix two cool drinks before we carried on with our separate day’s activities. Glancing up I saw Anne adjusting the curtains and along the drive Bob washing his already spotless car.
     The sun continued to pour down, very untypical for the U.K. Bob was within earshot and I laid the preliminary plans to deliver a C.D to Anne later that day. The shorter the time between delivery and use of my transmitter, the less chance there was of them spotting it and returning it to me.
     I made the drop at about seven thirty. This would be early enough not to disturb their evening, and late enough for them to be together in the living room. Pointless I thought in planting the item before they sat down in the same room together.
     The time was getting on so we finished our drinks. Caroline was engaged in an oil painting and I’d only an hour before dinner to check out the night scanner. After dinner I always took a nap and this would bring the time nicely up to an appropriate moment for delivery of the C.D.
     Back in the garage it was boiling. The nature of my pursuits required that the main door be closed. The small door to the rear, offered no air to reduce the heat from the sun, which was now stored and discharging from the concrete panels of the walls.
     The night vision unit was supposed to be mobile. More than mobile, it was designed to fit on a man in the field. I was glad that my use of it didn’t involve running over open countryside; it weighed a ton.
     The goggles and handset were equally cumbersome and quite grotesque. When fully kited up, the wearer was transformed into what could only be described as a sci-fi mutant; it was a truly gruesome sight.
     I began to prepare for nightfall. Sliding the rubber belts of the headset across my face felt particularly unpleasant as the sweat from my forehead got under the restraints. Putting the stuff on in this heat produced sounds rather like a sink plunger in action.
     Adjusting the light enhancement dial to zero, I switched it on. Although relatively dark in the garage, I was careful not to blind myself in what was still daylight conditions. Opening my eyes revealed a familiar bright green image of the world indicating that the equipment still worked.
     This machine combined infrared recognition with light enhancement techniques. It was specifically designed to detect human or other warm-blooded creatures in nighttime conditions and was built to satisfy a military requirement. The company I worked for had lost its tender for the order and so the prototypes, of which this was one, were dumped.
     I was both excited and frightened by the thought of trying it out on Bob and Anne. To peel away their masks of humanity, seemed a chilling prospect and one I was not sure that I could deal with. Even coping with dropping a C.D into Anne this evening was already presenting me with major reservations.
     Discarding the headset, I then left to assist Caroline with the dinner. As usual I was too late to be of any use but made up for it by clearing away afterwards. Next came a cup of tea to recover from the experience of real work, and then I stretched out on the sofa for my usual sleep.
     At six fifteen Caroline woke me with another cup of tea. On days off or at weekends I always had a siesta after dinner to claw back some sleep lost during the working week. At my request I was always woken at six fifteen to allow time for productive activities before the evening relaxation. Productive activities was an umbrella name under which a host of failed projects excisted.
     Nervously picking up a C.D I headed next-door. The name of the artists I’d selected for Anne was the heavy metal band "Grave-digger"; rather apt I feared. The sound they produced was beautifully ugly and I was sure that the personality presented to me as Anne, would enjoy the experience.
     Bob was always watching or pretending to watch T.V at this time of night. This gave me an excuse to bring my headphone transmitter along with the phones so as not to disturb him. To my delight Anne asked if I could leave the transmitter as hers was playing up, and so after the "Grave-digger demonstration", I was able to leave it plugged in and ready.
     Returning home I felt ill at ease. They were such a nice couple that to spy on them left a nasty taste in my mouth, yet what else could I do. Stopping briefly in the kitchen to admire Caroline’s sketches from earlier, I continued through to the lounge.
     Half way through the room I stopped dead. Turning around I returned to the drawings in the kitchen. Looking again confirmed my previously unconscious observations, and quite frankly I was speechless.
     Caroline had drawn a view of Anne in her garden. This in itself was not unusual but some of the detail on the figure was shouting out for an explanation. The whole of the lower abdomen, although hidden by a loosely fitting dress, gave unmistakable signs of the ugly segmentation I’d seen upon the unclothed figure.
    "Something wrong with it," enquired Caroline, "I’ve not finished it yet you know." She was still not a confident artist and I could see that she’d innocently copied the observed contours. So engrossed had she been in the task of being accurate, that the inhumanity of Anne had gone unnoticed.
     I had real first hand knowledge of the anomaly of course. Perhaps this magnified how obvious it appeared to me by knowing the actual truth that lie beneath the clothes. "No, nothings wrong with it", I replied, "Quite the reverse really; a striking resemblance." She smiled but as always, doubted the flattery.
     Returning her smile, I moved back into the lounge. Stopping at the patio windows, I paused as I often did, to admire the garden. At this moment however, the peaceful delights of a summers evening were somewhat over shadowed by more immediate plans.
     Idling across the patio felt odd. The physical pace of my progress was in stark contrast to the panic and anticipation I felt inside. Passing out of view from Bob’s house, my steps quickened as once more I found myself in the garage.
     On the floor and ready, was the night vision gear. Darkness had not yet fallen and so I decided to try a little eves dropping first. Clasping the headphone remote, I peered through the knothole to check that both parties were seated facing away from the music centre.
     The view before me was identical to that of last night. As I watched, so the sequence of events unfurled following the precise pattern that I’d witnessed before. I couldn’t believe how I’d missed spotting this repetition sooner.
     I began to monitor the times between their movements. If I switched on the remote immediately after the arrival of the sandwiches, this would give me ten minutes of listening-in time. I couldn’t risk their discovering my presence and so had to choose a span of time when both were facing the T.V.
     Here came the sandwiches again. Placing them out of view on the coffee table, Anne sat down as I activated their music system. Through my headphones I heard nothing at all. I could see the lights from the T.V but they must have had the sound down.
     It was all so silent. At first I wondered if the phones were working but then Bob shuffled in his chair and I picked it up loud and clear. Just then Anne began to speak but her voice wasn’t right and it didn’t sound like her at all.
     Like a hammer it suddenly dawned on me. Anne was speaking but with the voice of my wife Caroline. I was just trying to get my mind around that when Bob replied using my voice. I felt dizzy with the spectacle and momentarily forgot to listen to what was being said.
    "Something wrong with it", enquired Anne. "I’ve not finished it yet you know."
 "No, nothings wrong with it, quite the reverse really; a striking resemblance," Bob replied. "Something wrong with it," he continued, now using Caroline’s voice. "No," said Anne in my voice, "Quite the reverse really; a striking resemblance."
     I felt so helpless. They obviously had a complete insight into our lives. All my attempts at being discrete in the face of this nightmare had been wasted. From the very outset it appeared that my mind and actions were already known to them.
     But why maintain the deception. And why was the incident with the lawn mower covered up when they must have known I’d witnessed it. Could it be that my discovering them was of no importance and that the secrecy was maintained for other onlookers? This would imply that I was either in their camp or under their control.
     I switched off the headphones. Hungry for more information yet feeling transparent, I donned the night vision gear. Throwing the switch and taking a deep breath in anticipation, I moved in close to the knothole, pressing the right lens tight up against the door.
     Further surprises were now impossible. I looked on simply as a dazed observer. I felt powerless to influence whatever fate had in store for us and a feeling of complete loneliness emerged triumphant.
     There they sat in their true colours. Barely a hint of infrared that a human might exhibit, and what little there was shone coldly. Through their skins came images of an intricate and machine based physiology quite beyond my comprehension. All sorts of interwoven components and assemblies faintly glowing and changing colour as they functioned.
     My eyes began to adjust to the darkness and now I could see other lights in the room. A beam of light connected the two beings. The beam was stretched out between them joining their chests together, and it hung loosely dipping and rising like a child’s skipping rope. As the rope snaked around it changed colour in time with pulses from its centre discharging to the T.V screen.
     Most startling were the eyes. At first they would occupy the two normal or human positions. Then the left eye would track left as the right eye rose to prescribe a circle at ninety degrees to the circle drawn by the other. The cycle would then start again but with an axial shift that after much repetition would surely provide all-round vision.
     Removing the headset I returned to the living room. Caroline was in the shower so I drew the curtains and switched off the radio. Tonight was our regular trip to the pub and quite frankly I was more than ready for a drink right now.
     In the kitchen still were Caroline’s sketches. She’d worked some more on them and Anne’s abnormalities seemed louder than ever. I had to mention this now and knew that I must bring it all up in the pub later on.
     Getting into the car, we headed off to the pub. Sometimes we walked or cycled there and other times we drove and walked back. Tonight being very warm favoured driving so that we might arrive not dripping in sweat.
    Caroline was wearing a cool summer dress. I had a pair of shorts on and it seemed a long way from those cold winter nights when even this short trip could feel like hell on earth.
     I selected a cassette at random and the haunting voice of Joan Baez filled the car. Winding down the windows and tasting the scents and sounds of passing gardens, completed the delightful picture. Over the bridge we drove feeling the cooler air, that even in summer accompanied the river area.
     Enjoying the technology, I accelerated. As we approached a bend in the road, an oncoming car slewed sideways out of control and into our path. Swerving left we struck the kerb spinning round to collide with the other vehicle.
     Metal smashed against metal. On and on we span hitting a lamppost and several other parked cars until at last we came to rest. Barely able to breathe with shock, I began to take stock of our injuries. Caroline seemed calm; thank god we were both still alive at least.
     Glancing down I saw that her right hand was shattered. From beneath the broken skin I saw the severed mechanisms of an android. Her gaze shifted to observe my leg now half buried in the door panel; she smiled.
     There within a gaping hole in my left thigh, were the very same and bloodless severed mechanisms of an android.
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