MYSTERIOUS STRANGER

The members of the Belvedere Gentlemen's Club had been pre-warned that their latest recruit appeared to have sustained terrible injuries, but that didn't prepare them for what they saw when he was wheeled into the "Retirement Room" to join them late that evening for cigars and brandy by the large open fire.

They sat in stunned silence, unable to avert their gazes as the steward parked the wheel chair in a space between two arm chairs. Brigadier Bertrum Carmichael (Retired) was the first to break the ice. He stood up and extended his right hand to the stranger, introducing himself.

"You will forgive me if I do not shake your hand Brigadier."

"Oh, of course old boy. I'm most terribly sorry, I wasn't thinking." Carmichael reseated himself and continued to observe the macabre vision before him. The poor man must have suffered unbelievable pain as every area of what would have been visible flesh was wrapped in bandages. His legs, torso and feet however were clad as everybody else in the room; a dinner suit, crisp white shirt and highly polished shoes. The Brigadier couldn't help wondering if every inch of the man beneath the suit was also swaddled in bandage.

After introducing each of the other members seated before the huge fire place, Carmichael was unable to restrain his curiosity a moment longer.

"I mean no offence, so I hope you don't mind my asking but..."

"What happened to me?" the stranger finished for him. "A natural question considering my unconventional appearance, and I take no offence by it. Please allow me to relate to you the story of a friend of mine in response."

"Delighted!" Carmichael replied enthusiastically. "Won't you join us in a cigar and brandy?"

"Nothing for me thank you. I am simply grateful for the company here tonight and for the opportunity to share this tale."

After the small crowd had summoned a steward to refill their glasses and to deposit a wooden box of cigars on the mantle, they all sat back and bade the stranger begin his tale.

The year was 1904 when two men of science and engineering completed the project they had been working on and had broken open a modest bottle of champaign in celebration. At that time there was no name to describe their creation and this work of genius had occupied many years of both their lives. Until tonight they had begun to wonder if it would ever be finished and could scarcely believe it when the last metal plate had been screwed into place. They had always referred to their work as The Project.

They had engaged the talents of many craftsmen in all areas of trade and business during the years of construction, supplying each with detailed blue-prints and very specific instructions regarding scale and functionality. Not one sub-contractor was aware of the nature of what he or she was making as the two men feared their Project may either be ridiculed or worse, fall into the wrong hands. Now there was a war being fought, if they had been taken seriously the Project may even have been used for military purposes, and this was always intended to be a labour of love and peace.

One sad day the younger of the two, who was sixty-five years old, was killed when a German Fighter flew overhead on it's return trip to it's homeland. He was walking a cliff-top path and was gunned down; a defiant last act by a defeated enemy as it left the land that spelled the demise of it's colleagues.

As the war passed and peace had been restored the remaining brother (for this was the close relationship of the two) became a recluse, choosing not to interact with anybody else and to remain within the confines of his home. He became quite self sufficient, tending his vegetable garden and collecting eggs every day from his few hens. He also kept a goat which provided him with a constant supply of fresh milk. In his way he was happy although he never gave up mourning for his slain brother.

However as the years passed, the man became frail and was finally forced to consign himself to his bed. The time had come when he had to resign himself to the fact that if he were to survive, he had to put his faith in another individual. But he knew nobody. He could hardly trust a stranger to enter his home. His impending doom plunged him into a deep depression. There was just one hope for his survival and the answer lay under  dust sheet in the cellar.

Swathed in a dressing gown that hung down to his ankles and wearing bedroom slippers the man made his way slowly through the house, holding on to as many things that would bare his weight and eventually reached the cellar door.

He opened it and reached in with one hand, feeling along the wall for the candle and matches he had placed on a horizontal baton years ago. They were still there. He ignited a match and put it to the candle wick. There was a small movement of air which made the resulting flame flicker, but it remained alight and enabled him to see the dusty wooden steps down into the inky blackness below.

One step at a time he slowly descended. He was terribly unstable on his feet and didn't want to risk falling, for in so doing he would surely perish. Finally he reached the cobbles below and stared ahead of him at the still grey shape that was The Project under it's cover.

As the dust sheet was pulled away he felt a surge of emotion for his brother who had designed the head of this automated man. The cranium had the shape of a human head but there were no facial features. A green glass dome that formed the very top and curved down until it reached the level of where the bridge of a human's nose would be,  contained a single camera lense that was itself attached to a turntable and swivel joint. The whole formed a single eye that had perfect all-round vision and eliminated the need for a jointed neck. The torso appeared to be made from panels of different metals riveted together to give the appearance of a patchwork quilt. The man ran his hand over the body. Despite all the components, the surface was as smooth as a mirror, a finish that both siblings were very proud of.

The man felt under the left arm for a button that was sitting flush with the body's surface. On finding it he prayed that there was some power left in the batteries so that he didn't have to attempt to drag the Project up the steps himself in order to place it before a window so that the sunlight may charge it. He pressed. He waited, dread taking possession of him as the Project remained silent and motionless.

But then there was a sound. A high pitched whistle, so quiet that one had to strain one's ears to hear it; but it was definitely there. Relief flooded from the man in the form of tears and when a ring of small pea-bulbs had fully illuminated around the inside of the bottom edge of the green glass dome he knew that his creation was operating on all the power it had available in it's batteries.

"Stand, ascend the stairs and charge yourself at the large window." he ordered the thing. Almost without hesitation the creature rose and obeyed the order to the letter. The man edged his way up the stairs, clinging to the bannister for support and at the top blew out the candle and placed it back where it had lain for all these years.

Affording the Project a proud and admiring glance, the man then ascended the house stairs and took himself to his bed.

He slept soundly for the first time in months and the following morning called for his creation to climb the stairs and enter his room. Thus began a wonderful and happy relationship, and as each day passed the Project absorbed more and more things from the world around it.

One and a half years later Project, for that was what had been chosen for it's name,  had learnt everything there was to learn about  all within the house and it's grounds. It had learnt to use it's artificial voice and had become a proficient player of Chess, much to the delight of it's creator. The relationship had advanced as far as it could and ensured the survival of the man. That is until one wet afternoon when Project approached it's creator unbidden.

"I want to be upgraded." it told the man who laughed till his side hurt. "I jest not. I wish to be upgraded."

"But you are as near human as you can possibly be. There is nothing more to be done. How can I be expected to upgrade perfection?" asked the man.

"I want to be Human." Project replied.

At this the man laughed some more and informed his creation that it was being ridiculous.

"Very well, if you will not upgrade me, then I shall leave this place in search of someone who will."

With that the creature turned it's back on it's creator and paced purposely towards the front door.

"Come back here you stupid machine!" shouted the man, but if the creature had heard him it pretended otherwise. "I'm warning you, come back now or suffer the consequences." The machine continued towards the door, unlatched it and strode into the garden that fronted the house. The man arose from his arm chair and grabbed a heavy poker from the fire place and followed his creation into the garden. 

The rain was heavy but neither party were deterred from their individual missions. As the creature marched towards the huge iron gates in the high wall which surrounded the property the man hobbled up behind it.

"Stop now and turn back towards the house or so help me I shall ensure that you never walk again." shouted the man, but the machine paced on regardless. As the man got within striking distance he gripped the poker like a baseball bat, swung it back and then smashed it full-force into the back of the creature's knee joints. There was an array of sparks and smoke and the creature toppled forward onto the sodden grass.

Suddenly the man gripped his left arm and grimacing, fell to the grass himself.

"Help me, I think I am having a heart attack." But despite it's injuries the creature dragged itself in the direction of the gates with all the power it could muster in it's arms. The last memory it had of it's creator was the death rattle in his throat as he turned over onto his back and expired.

 

There was a silent pause as the members of the Belvedere Gentlemen's Club waited to see if the stranger had anything further to add to this fanciful story. When it was clear that there was no more to come, Brigadier Bertrum Carmichael (Retired) was the first to free his hands by placing his cigar between his teeth and clapping them in a show of appreciation. The others soon followed suit.

"Well done, old man. Well done. A damn good yarn if you don't mind my saying? But tell me, what on earth has that to do with your injuries?"

"It is only my legs that are injured, Sir." the stranger replied and reached behind his head to untie the small knot which held his bandages in place. Everybody sat forward in their chairs expecting to see some terrible disfigurement, but as the bindings slipped away they were struck with horror as a green glass dome was revealed.

"My name is Project and for the past twelve years I have lived an upgraded existence."

The End

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