44.2 - No One Beats Up Jason like Jason! (Alycia's Tale)

“Jason, goddammed kusotare …” I trail off, muttering, as I defuse yet one more booby-trap. This whole thing is turning ridiculous. I’ve been at it for what seems like hours (the chronometer says only one, but what does it know?), and the defenses on the perimeter of the rift have gone from bad to batshit crazy, and it’s pissing me off.

Okay, monitoring devices? Sure. It makes my head hurt to think of how they’re tying back across the dimension to AltFutureEarth, but I’ll take a look at them a bit later – it might be useful if we need an alternative to my plan to get out of the Sepiaverse and back home (or a related timeline thereof).

Pitfalls, electrical wire, stun fields? Non-lethal, incapacitating, definitely of the “do not touch, do not approach” style of protection. Indeed, they kind of go with the signs that say, “DO NOT APPROACH. DANGER OF DEATH” (in that distinctive Quill Gothic font), in English, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, and Vyortovian.

And, in fact, there are a few lethal traps – conventional mines, a pair of autoguns, a gas projector that might not actually kill immediately but would likely (I recognize the ingredients) give you lung cancer five years down the line while it was knocking you out.

Then things get to the crazy level.

Antimatter “Bouncing Betties”. EMP rods that would probably fry a human nervous system. A laser grid that I’d have problems dancing my way out of. Flechette guns. Something I didn’t want to touch, but that looked like it would generate a point singularity, a tiny black hole, that would likely pulverize, shred, or tear apart anything within 5-10 meters.

After that, the most recent item – something that would instantly dissolve the mortar in a medium-sized building, sending the structure tumbling down on whoever triggered it – seems almost prosaic except for we’re talking about literally dropping a building on a target.

Madness. Wild overkill. Inefficient and flamboyant and ridiculously lethal.

This is Jason’s work – mostly Quilltech, with some bits of Chintech grafted in, no doubt scavenged from that Warehouse of Wonders he has. A few pieces with the Rook logo on them, but not many; Rook’s stuff is cheap crap, and this equipment has been here for a while, built to last.

* * *

In old Western movies and television shows, computers running on Hollerith cards would spit them out with a bell ring when they had completed their mysterious computing tasks. It’s a ridiculous, pseudo-scientific fetishizing of Technology-as-Mystery-Religion, but it’s useful as a metaphor.

My brain goes “bing” and spits a card out.

_How long has this equipment been here?
Hypergenius works in mysterious ways, its wonders to perform. I key mine off of space and movement – imagined, if need be; true movement and kinetic visualization if possible. My mind often works on a dozen problems at the same time, usually like a well-run organization, taking the initiative proactively, before the leader (me) has a chance to actually direct it.

There are no things I haven’t thought of, only things I haven’t yet thought.

(No, my ego is not that great. but sometimes my mind surprises me by what it’s been pondering that I wasn’t aware of, only surfacing the results when they are ready or needful)

As to the question …

Clues. Weathering. Malfunctions. Broken parts on the ground, signs of maintainance by support staff …

The Quilltech items have been here for years – at least a decade old. (“Bing” – another card – those are the components that are the most monitoring-focused, the least lethal.) And they seem all of an age – as if Jason set up the defenses on this side of the rift to keep it from being approached by the Sepiaverse types without detection, and then assumed that, with a bit of occasional maintenance, it would be just fine.

The Chintech items – yes, of course I recognize my father’s handicraft – are, in turn, more deadly, more lethal. Taking an infrared beam and upping its strength to cause burns and ignition just by passing in front of it. Immobilization foam supplemented with injected chemicals that will dissolve whatever is trapped. Restraint tentacles with boosted muscles to constrict to the point of crushing …

More importantly, I realize with a cold ball that sits in the pit of my stomach and spreads its chill throughout my body, that the Chintech is newer than the items Jason set up here. This isn’t scavenged from those lovely Quill warehouses. This has been built and crafted and grafted onto Jason’s defenses.

And more recently.

_Is my father still alive here?

* * *

I am fascinated by the phenomenon of Star Trek in Western culture, particularly the US. It summarizes and epitomizes American historic zeitgeist and self-image of the 1960s – exceptionalist hubris, a tension between the soft powers of influence and the hard powers of military force, and the self-confidence and shadowy self-doubt of a Great Empire only beginning to teeter.

It also has some merit in drama and action, even fifty years after broadcast. And humor, even if not always intentional.

Less profound and more trite in Hollywood terms are the movies that were issued from those television shows, which had greater spectacle but less heart. But one moment from them always sticks me, in the second film made. Chekov and Terrell are on a desolate planet, investigating signs of habitation. Chekov spots the name of the ship the shelter was built from, plays the tantalizingly familiar name of the ship through his memory –

– and his eyes widen as he realizes that things have gone from puzzling to blood-chillingly dangerous, and that he has walked into a lion’s den he never even realized existed.


* * *

As far as I can tell, my father was alive and building technology, here, only five years ago. His hypergenius fingerprints are clear.

My limbs suddenly feel weak.

I curse myself over the visceral terror I feel at the very real prospect that I could encounter my father here. A father not defanged by Jason’s nanobots. A father who survived amidst the conflict of the Sepiaverse. A father who built this insane killing field. A father who would –

Stop it, Alycia.

This is not the place for this (but he might actually be here), and not the time (but he might be here now_).
I slap down on this. Hard. I believe in discipline, but I also have respect for the integrity of mind and emotion and the conscious and unconscious. The mind, the self, is an amazing thing, and a very large part of my fury toward my father, and my fear of him, is what he did to me to control me, emotionally and mentally and physically and chemically.

I respect all those facets of myself, even if they are sometimes irksome and in the way.

But at this moment, I slap them down. I can control my mind. I can control my emotions. I must. I am in a different dimension, a different spot on the timeline, in the ruins of a graveyard filled chockablock with lethal traps and defenses.

I cannot afford panic now. I cannot. Nor can my team mates afford my panic.

I do the cognitive equivalent of grinding gears from 5th to 1st on a manual transmission (the only proper gear control for motor vehicles – see, already distracting myself). I punch my panic and terror in the solar plexus and then punch them in the neck while they’re gasping for air. I deliberately shift my brain chemistry to get myself … under … control.

That’s not a good thing. Or a healthy thing. I’ll pay for it later, in nightmares if nothing else. But it is better than the alternative.

* * *

_Analysis. Deliberation. Consideration. Intelligence. Science. Hold those emotions at bay. Create the space to control not just yourself, but the situation.
There is another element at play. A third technology.

I spotted it on that booby-trapped building, the larger scale driving larger mechanisms, creating greater visibility. But it’s present in the smaller booby-traps and deathworks as well.

What in the Nine Hells is it?

Something silvery, tinged in blue and gold. Sleek and smooth and radically advanced, profoundly sophisticated. In many cases, it’s what’s holding the Quill and Chin technologies together, connecting incompatible interfaces, routing power and sensors and even –

– damnation, this stuff is giving me a headache, too_._

It’s not actually the death traps itself, it just enables them. It’s passive, making all the mechanisms play nicely (and effectively and lethally).

And I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s more complex and advanced than I can grasp, at least under these circumstances. Silver, and gold, and blue … it feels profoundly alien, but the only actual aliens I’ve encountered of late – the Concordance – don’t even have technology that is recognizable as such. This isn’t them. Nor is it Vyortovian – I know what that looks like (after many hours under the hood of my lovely, lovely hoverbike), and this isn’t even evolutionary from that.

And it’s new, grafted onto the Chintech in places, some time in the last five years, making these installations a hornet’s nest of destruction.

The last five years. With my father’s techology.

_Oh, fuckfuckfuck …
So, next question needing analysis: why is this tech here? Is it to surround the Wound, to keep intruders from the other side from penetrating more deeply into the Sepiaverse? Or is it to keep denizens of this world (or folk who slipped over from elsewhere, like myself) from approaching the Wound?

And that hinges on another point of analysis: does it, like the unmodified Quilltech, have communication channels, warning signals? And, if so and more importantly, which direction do they point? Into the Wound? Or … elsewhere in this world?

And on cue …

_Something is coming.
Air displacement. Gravitomagnetic shift. Static electricity. Space distortion …

_Something is coming!
I dive behind a half-wall, even as something appears, shimmering out of thin air.

White and silver and blue, bits of gold – vaguely starfish-shaped – arms waving slightly back and forth as though shifting and swimming in place within a liquid medium. Yes, the colors –

– match the silvery tech I was just considering.

I watch around the corner, even as by touch I swap out the tranq gel rounds from my pistols for the clips of explosive rounds.

Abruptly beams flicker out from the starfish body, razor-flat, at all angles, sweeping and scissoring across its surroundings. I duck back behind the wall, trying to be a whole lot of nothing behind a whole lot of something.

I feel the beams. Scanning deeply – intrusively – scarily.

And then I can sense the starfish turning toward me.

* * *


The voice comes from the starfish, vaguely mechanical, but pitched in a fashion and intonation that seems female. And it is … familiar.


Analyze. Recollect. Correlate.

News broadcasts. The United Nations. An ultimatum. A figure of gleaming –

Doctor Infinity.

* * *

_Botany … Bay … Botany Bay? Oh, no!

We’ve got to get out of here, now!



* * *

I can’t fight Doctor Infinity. I probably can’t even fight one of Doctor Infinity’s drones, if that’s what this is. I’ve never even heard of her using them before. But, then, who knows anything specific about Doctor Infinity?

A timeless, spaceless, artificial being (yes, another thrice-bedamned robot menace). An omega-level reality-shifter with a very idiosyncratic view (or, perhaps, hyper-perspective) of What Should Be.

Halcyon City is a particular bête noire of hers. Too many disturbers of reality. Too many kinks introduced to in the time stream. Too much chaos for her machine mind, perhaps – or maybe she’s just obsessed with maintaining the future that presumably created her.

Don’t attract Doctor Infinity’s attention. That’s at the top of every global power figure’s to-do list, every super-villain and super-hero (and politician and oligarch and scientist). Or it should be at the top of their list, except that it’s too improbable – Doctor Infinity plays at much higher stakes than five nines of the populace ever even dream of.

Father spoke of her as a potential high-risk opponent. He wasn’t afraid of her – he never seemed afraid of anyone or anything – but he, too, was worried about attracting her attention. He made it clear that she could damage his plans, upset the Great Mission, and I know of at least one scheme he made that was radically altered when Doctor Infinity became only peripherally involved in the locale targeted.

I also know she was involved with the original conflict that created this Wound in the Worlds – and, seemingly, Charlotte, our own Ghost Girl. Something about a battle between Infinity and Magus Everard (who is a poster child for irresponsible use of power, by the by).

Her being here is very much a bad situation. My being here, by myself, at the same time is even worse. For me, at least.

* * *

Stealth will not help here. Any force I can directly apply will not help here. I can only hope that I am smarter than Doctor Infinity is – or, at least, than Doctor Infinity believes I am.

I holster my guns, and stand up, coming out from around the half-wall. I’m somewhat gratified to note the starfish pivot slightly, minutely adjusting as I come into view – she knew I was there, but not precisely where.

_Doctor Infinity has limitations.
Of course she does. She exists. She is material(ish) – her drone even more so. She is immensely powerful, but that does not mean omnipotence – or omniscience. She is not a High Deity. I don’t have to bow down to her, or willingly acquiesce to her whims. That’s almost … encouraging.

* * *

A part of me observes the difference between my reaction to Doctor Infinity actually being here, at least by proxy, vs. my reaction to the prospect of Father showing up. Both are existential threats in their own way. But my mind classifies Infinity as more an obstacle, someone or something to work around, over, past, or through. A Sagarmāthā-class obstacle, to be sure, a Nemesis-grade asteroid strike, a tsunami, an avalanche, but still primarily an obstacle.

Whereas my mind classifies my father in a way that conjures up the writings of Derleth and Lovecraft, even if he is no immediate threat to me, right here and right now (but he might be any minute!).

The mind is a curious thing.

* * *

I smile at the starfish. Let’s start with making an ally, rather than an opponent. Doctor Infinity dislikes disorder, chaos, threats to the status quo – and thus threats to her. So we might actually be on the same side here. Wouldn’t that be lovely?

“I am here to seal the Wound in the Worlds,” I tell the drone. There. That should establish my bona fides with her. A creature who values Order so much should be pleased to hear that –


Well, bugger.


_Double bugger.

Useful intel, but not what I want to hear, at all. As useful intel often is. All right then, let’s see if we can get her monologuing. “But – why? Why do you want the dimensions to collapse?”


My track record at being smarter than Doctor Infinity is not looking good. _Though, on the bright side, I’m finally provoking annoyance from a robot. Hurrah for me.
Can I be of sufficient value to not be zapped back to the past? Or maybe bluff about it in a way to distract her? “If you get rid of me, I won’t be able to take the others back with me.”

“WHAT … OTHERS?” Can a starfish glare? I’m getting a definite glaring vibe from Infinity’s drone.

“They’re moving into position now. They should be just about in place.” If I could provoke her into scanning for the others, or, even better, looking around for them physically, then that might buy me a few precious moments to think of something else, or for the others to stop shilly-shallying with whatever they are doing with that giant spirit cloud and come in to assist.


And that is the third strike. I feel fear grip me. I’m going to be discarded, flicked from the battlefield as ignorant and unimportant. I can’t out-think her. I can’t physically stop her. She’s a natural disaster sweeping in on me, unstoppable, implacable – a tornado, a lava flow, an avalanche, pounding down, destroying –

An avalanche …

Those scanning beams are coming from the starfish arms again, now in a pattern circling me, cycling and spinning about, building in brightness, getting ready to send me back to where I started.

For an instant, I almost welcome the thought. Then I realize that would mean abandoning my team. And that it would mean letting Doctor Infinity destroy the world, even if it’s not my world in two significant fashions.

If she throws me back, can I return here on my own? Through dimensions and through time? To whom can I reach out for help? AEGIS is worthless, and I can just imagine the smugly cheerful smile on Summer’s face if I came begging for her assistance.

Well, of course I wouldn’t go to Summer. Jason is the obvious answer. I track him down. I punch him a few times. Then I get his help – more importantly, his resources – to get back here.

But … can I trust him, knowing what he became in this timeline? For that matter, do I dare let even him know what he could become?

Fortunately, I don’t have to worry about that. I hope.

The beams are swinging more tightly, a high-tech laser show with a finale that will mark my exit. Unless I bring the house down first. Ha!

I draw one of my pistols, still loaded with explosive rounds, aiming deliberately, accurately at the starfish, full extension forward like a dueling stance. The target doesn’t even flinch or put up a protective shield, which tells me what I need to know about the likelihood of harming it directly.

Which is why I shift my aim slightly up and left at the real target. The building beyond is hazy, as if I’m already starting to move out of this time. A bubble of fear rises through my brain, but I ignore it and pull the trigger.

And dive backward, rolling in a tumble, up to my feet, holstering, _running.
I know my geometry. That booby-trapped building, the one where the mortar would all effectively vanish? I deactivated the sensors that triggered it, not the trap itself. One good hit and it goes off, sending the building crumbling and then hurtling down at Doctor Infinity’s drone. And, only three meters away, well within the zone, me.

An avalanche …

I can’t outrun the drone’s beams, or, likely, the drone itself. But the beams wheel then cut off suddenly, as many tons of rubble crash down on it. I’m getting my morning workout, throwing glances to spot what’s hurtling toward me, calculating vectors and curves and gravitational coefficients and geometry –

– moving just so, holding my shoulder back here, taking a small jump there, ducking my head at this moment, leaping forward at that moment, and –

– and I’m clear, caked with dust, and still heading for the horizon as fast as I can stumble, or at least to where I can break line of sight. Because I don’t, I _can’t, _assume that the drone is destroyed, or even seriously incapacitated. The best I can hope for is that it’s trapped for some period of time. Because it’s Doctor Infinity, for fuck’s sake, and I am punching way out of my weight class.

* * *

I slow down a hundred meters – and several twists and turns – away. I’ve doubled back on my previous course, past traps that I’ve already defanged. I make a note of the ones that I might be able to turn against Infinity’s drone, if it shows up again. When it shows up again. I assume the worst.

I force oxygen into my lungs, cough up some dust, repeat. After I’ve gotten my breath back, I tap the earbud comms. I don’t want to create a trackable signal for Doctor Infinity, but the others need to know – and, also, I need to rub it in a bit what they left me to do solo.

“Hey, guys. Doctor Infinity is here. Top that!”

And as I slump against another pile of rubble, the computer in my brain says, “ding!” and two more cards pop out.

The first: Infinity didn’t count Charlotte when talking about beings to be sent back. She mentioned Mercury and Jaycee, but not Ghost Girl. So … is Infinity fine with her being here? Unlikely. Is Charlotte dead – um, deader? I hope someone would have called me. Or – can Doctor Infinity simply not sense _her?


_Unfortunately, that intriguing thought is followed by another:

Wait. Why is Father’s recent technology connected with Infinity_tech?

_Okay, this is getting really bad.

#Recap #Cutscene

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6509504