[A recap of Issue 24, or parts of it, from Jason’s 1st Person perspective.]
I’m racing around like a lunatic, getting the lab set up, identifying and routing power supplies to feed the portal I’m going to create. I’m grinning like a lunatic, too, because I’m finally –
– finally going to the Sepiaverse? Finally going off to rescue Charlotte? Finally going to find Dad? Finally going to be –
– doing something.
I mean, I’ve been doing stuff left, right, and center, but this whole adventure – an adventure! – feels like something that’s mine, something that’s going to be something that I’ve accomplished, not just something I’m stumbled through, or dragged down on myself.
With Numina at my side, which makes it seem all the more –
– and Alycia might be there.
Well, she might. I know she’s been trying to get to the Sepiaverse, to rescue her dad. (How can she stay loyal to him. I might ask the same question of myself, but Dad’s sins toward me are personal. Achilles Chin is a terrorist, no matter what she used to argue.) I gave her the tech, the nanobots with the memory of what we know. It should be enough to help her get through if she hasn’t reached out to me again.
(Her encounter with Harry flashes through my mind again. She was looking for me, via the nanobots. She threatened Harry to get him to call for my help. Dammit, why didn’t she try to get hold of me again? It can’t have just been to try to kill me – I’m sure of it.)
So Alycia might be there. An added bonus, right?
I throw a glance at Numina, my smile become more forced. Yeah, that light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train. I can see it all too clearly. But I don’t see a way off the tracks and, honestly, I just plain don’t know the answer here. Every problem has a solution, usually more, Dad taught me that – but not all solutions are without negative consequences. I really don’t want to –
She catches my eye, smiling as she rewires a console to my specs (and doing it far more neatly than I would). I feel something in my gut that should feel good, and does, and also feels –
Shift thoughts. Let’s not dwell on that crisis-in-the-making. Enough other stuff to worry about, to take that smile off my face.
This is going to hurt. I know it is. It’s one of those “Don’t do it if it hurts” things that I never used to pay attention to. (It’s a wonder I every grew up with arms and legs that were straight, for all the breaks I had and how bad a patient I was). I might be able to get Harry to help for part of it – he’s crossed over before.
But the whole HHL thing with Vyortovia, and all those intersections to the Sepiaverse, and that stuff with his father – I don’t want to put him on the spot quite yet.
If I had Charlotte here – well, she already knows how to cross over, and I could probably find some refinement to keep this from overtaxing my connection to the bots. But she’s not here – she’s my excuse for doing this.
Weird, that I’ve needed an excuse. Hecate’s veil (goddammit) kept me from really pushing to look for Dad. With that gone, and with Charlotte’s absence becoming a thing after that cryptic message, those cobwebs are cleared from my brain. And, hey, I’ve figured out a way to do it without further damaging the fabric of the multiverse, so _yay me, can I submit this as a project for AP Physics, Mr. Rodocker?
A glance at the security cams, as if I expect the rest of the Menagerie, or AEGIS, or even Alycia, to suddenly show up to try and stop me. All I see is Brigand, sacked out on the sofa in his old favorite place, just like he never left it.
_This is crazy, doing this by myself. If Numina weren’t here, I’d have to ask her if I’m doing something nuts.
I wish she wasn’t going. I’m so incredibly happy that she’s going.
This stuff is hard.
* * *
At last, everything is ready. Power supply is secured (re-routing Reactors 3 and 7, and drawing on all the banks of capacitors buried deep in the ground below us), so no browning out a chunk of the city (man, I was really out of it when I did this before). I just need to unleash the bots in just that way, and have a it.
I’m going after Charlotte, but parachuting on top of someone’s tracking signal who might be in trouble is often a way to get into trouble, too. Rusty’s Commando Craft 101. So I’m “aiming” 200 meters south of her. Hopefully she’s not 200 meters north of an active volcano, or having luncheon atop Half Dome, or something, but I have to trust the bots to not drop me into instant fatality. (The whole idea of “north” in relation to a interdimensional hop is so silly that I have to treat this as magic a complicated and transcendental act of will and quantum outcomes that create a correspondence to a logical outcome.
I stand in the center of the room. Numina is at the main console. Lab 4 is in the core of the building, but high enough up that if this causes a massive explosion, the whole building won’t fall. Let’s not think about that.
She looks at me. I smile and give her a thumbs up (as lame as that sounds), and she presses the appropriate contact point. Yes, yes, dramatically it should be a giant red button, or even better, a massive double knife switch that starts up Jacobs ladders, whining … generators and …
… and …
_… my vision blurs, vision and hearing and feeling and smell and taste and thoughts, smeared across multiple locales, experience without meaning, action without movement, locked in time, a thousand overlays of reality pressing in on me while I’m unable to think or feel or shift or change, a floating out-of-body experience that’s not only more like out-of-multiple nanobot-sized-bodies, and is anything but “floating” – stretched across the lab, but also the weird caves and growths and strangeness of that shadow realm that Charlotte’s body took me through, and a cityscape but horribly wrong –
… and suddenly some vision does come through, another control room (the same, but this time with giant knife switches and Jacobs ladder and whining dynamos and sparks and there’s Li’lycia in a lab coat and goggles, running back and forth like a lunatic, like me, flipping switches and twirling dials and – she looks at me, eyes wide beneath the goggles, shaking her head,_ I can’t handle this, I’m so s–
She flickers. Derezzes. Is gone.
And I’m in the lab, cramps of nausea in my brain, feeling like something has gone away, been lost, Jesus K. Christ on a Cosmic Surfboard what just –
“Jason, are you all right?”
A hand on my arm, pulling me backward. Numina, looking at me, face wrinkled with concentration and concern.
When I don’t answer (largely because the answer is No, but not in a way that I can grasp, let alone articulate), she gestures. “The portal.”
And there it is, a roaring, swirling, grinding mess of a tear in the universe – the universes – but more like a surgical slit than a tear, if my calculations were correct. And I checked my math twice, so they should be.
Beyond it, I see something in the distance (how can there be distance? why wouldn’t there be?), a dreary light, a bit of broken brick and a bare tree.
I turn back to Numina. You shouldn’t go, it might be – yeah, even I can learn new tricks, and that is exactly what I shouldn’t say, even as part of me screams to say it and another part is still screaming from what just –
I put on my game face, give her a slight smile, a firm nod, hold out my hand –
– and we jump.
* * *
It’s a step that seems to stretch a thousand miles, but still just a single step.
* * *
I choke for a minute, air laden with ash and dust, feeling a weird flicker of feedback from the bots as whatever physical rules apply here adjust to me, or me to them. Out of the corner of my eye, in the pressure in my hand, Numina flickers for a moment, before the hard light shell returns. I give her a quick look of worry but she returns a wan smile, eyes slightly wider than usual.
Like a tub full of boulders rolling down the drain, the portal behind us closes in a swirl of debris, leaving a line of metallic goo on the ground. Dizziness washes over me, the world goes even more dim for a second, and then –
We’re standing in a street lined with (but most cleared of) rubble. Shattered buildings around us (though I can see patches of repair). Before us – the Capitol of the United States, its dome partially broken, but some sort of flag mounted atop it.
The air is still thin and wrong, the sky overcast but with a few patches of pale blue sky in it. The light …
Numina says, “You did it. Congratulations are probably in order – as long as we’re looking at this without context.”
“Yeah, not exactly a great vacation spot to – go with you. Maybe – next time?” The emotional turmoil from that statement, started off-handedly, goes on even as I am taking in and analyzing more of the scene.
Which, itself, has emotional turmoil written all over it.
Washington, DC, after a (non-nuclear) bombing raid or twelve. Flashbacks of the US Strategic Bombing Survey in Germany and Japan. Footage of the post-war years, civilians employed in clearing rubble, making the devastated cities living and operating urbanations again. Those films (thanks again, Rusty) were all in black and white, which resonates well with the sicky yellow-brown lighting of this place (thus Harry’s “Sepiaverse” nickname).
Broken buildings, but cleared streets with vehicles (unpowered, horse-drawn automobile as well as cruder carts) trundling along. People building, or rebuilding, or going about their business, but few, far too few. Ramshackle dwellings scabbed onto broken walls, people living in lean-tos in the street. Another flash of memory, being driven through the streets of Mumbai, safe within our hire car but watching the disintegrating structures, incomplete construction, people camped along the sidewalks – only Mumbai was filled with people, this is more like –
_Wait, people –
– looking at us. Pointing. Talking with their neighbors in excited but muted tones, as if voices are never raised loudly here.
Down the street, at that broken capital building – soldiers, visible even from this distance, trotting in this direction. Guns at port arms – not pointing at us (yet), but not slung, either.
So much for the subtle, covert approach. Sorry, Rusty.
“Do we run?” Numina asks. Part of me wants to, not deal with this danger yet. Keep her away from it (and, yeah, me, too). But it’s too late for that. We’ve been noticed. We don’t know the terrain. There are no safe spots here. So figure it out, Jason – what’s the alternative to running? Fight? Or --?
People in – well, not quite rags, but a worn and tattered mishmosh of clothing. Soldiers in fatigues that look like they were fighting on the front for months without any new uniforms issued. A broken, bombed-out city. People excited to see us – not fearful, not alarmed, but excited and almost –
– in awe?
Yup, it’s an adventure all right, because the stuff Rusty taught me is a lot more useful in adventures than the stuff Dad taught me (and the rest of the time, usually vice-versa). And, in this case, it’s combining the dystopian SF I’ve read with Rusty’s lessons in how to deal with primitive people who are or who can be overawed. Which lessons were not terribly politically correct: Rusty playing technology tricks on Congolese tribesmen, Rusty pretending to be a volcano god in New Guinea …
Yeah, let’s think instead about Bing Crosby in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. We’ll pull out the equivalent of a Zippo in Medieval Times.
“What do you think we should do?” Numina says again.
I smile, like Rusty used to smile. I hope he felt more confident than I do. “We make an entrance.”
[More to follow …]
author: *** Dave H.