SG: Aurora #43 - Old Friends II - Part Three of Five
frobozz at eyrie.org
Wed Dec 29 19:59:06 PST 2004
[[CONTINUED FROM PART TWO -- BUT YOU MISSED THE LIME!]]
"You've heard of Julliard, right?"
"It's one of those music schools, yeah?"
"No. It's -the- music school. From the moment I could talk, I could
sing. I'd sing at school, I'd sing at home, I loved to make beautiful
music and fill the air with song. And from the moment that my parents
realised that my singing didn't make the angels cry with pity, they
dreamed of me taking my gift and sharing it with the world."
"Unh hunh. And so you had Julliard on the mind as soon as you were old
enough to know about it?"
"Hunh. I'm surprised."
"I'm a contrary girl, didn't you realise?"
"I realised. Colour me a fool."
"I will later, when I've got my coloured pencil collection again.
Anyway, where was I?"
"No, that's where I -wasn't-. See, the thing of it is, I loved to
"What I didn't like, however, was the thought of having anyone tell
me how I could do it better."
"I'm not sure how to explain it. It's weird. It's like I knew how to
sing like a bird, but the thought of training myself and learning new
ways to be all bird-like would have caged me. It wouldn't be fun any
more. It would be..."
"Right! Exactly. It would've been work. And to me, singing was joy.
It was me when I was relaxed and happy. It wasn't about..."
"Exactly. But what you've managed to figure out in five minutes was
something my parents couldn't figure out like..."
"Yes. Ever. I'd try to explain it to them, and I'd be told that I was
lazy for not wanting to apply myself. I wasn't using the gifts God had
given me. I should be using my talents to make other people happy."
"Except you probably were?"
"All the time. But of course..."
"That wasn't -really- what they wanted."
"Yes. What they wanted was a daughter who went to Julliard. Who sang
professionally. Someone who was a star that they could talk about to all
"I'm so glad my mother lowered her expectations early..."
"Mine couldn't. Not for a minute. But you know how parents are. They
pushed me and they pressured me. And finally..."
"I went. To keep them happy and because, I dunno, somehow they'd made
me feel like it was what I wanted, in the end."
"Even though it wasn't."
"But I didn't realise that at the time. Or maybe I did, but I didn't
too. I'd hidden it so well that even I couldn't really see what I
wanted. So I went. And I tried it for a year. And with the pressure and
the competition and the infighting and the whole atmosphere, I don't
"You hated it."
"Like a spider milkshake, yes. So I did what anyone would do in that
situation. I dropped out."
"Bet your parents weren't too happy?"
"Not too happy doesn't even begin to get close to the sheer fury that
they felt. I swear, my father came close to hitting me, and he'd
promised not to do that after my brother... well, that's another story.
Let's just say that we were at loggerheads. They wanted me to do
something I hated, and I'd have sooner died than do it. So again, I did
what anyone in my position would do."
"I went temporarily insane and did something so monumentally stupid,
only to piss off my parents."
"Yes. Though the funny thing is, halfway through the indoctrination,
it just all clicked for me. This place just seemed perfect for me. The
spy-craft that I was doing at first wasn't a -perfect- fit, but here I
was in a place that needed me, so that we could do good things for my
country and the world. Everyone cooperated together towards common
goals, and whatever infighting there was I could ignore, and I could see
tangible results of my efforts just by looking in the newspapers, if I
squinted really hard. If I wanted to sing, well, there were outlets for
that, but it wasn't expected of me to ever perform unless I -wanted-
"Weird. But cool. And the discipline didn't hurt, did it?"
"Now that you mention it, no. It didn't. There's something about me
that thrives on having someone tell me the broad strokes of what I
should be doing, and leaves me to find a creative way to do it."
"Thought so. How'd you wind up with us grunts, though?"
"Unless you want to start lying now..."
"Well, how do you know I haven't been up till now?"
"Point. Okay, honestly."
"I got really, really envious of you guys on the front lines. You
could just... I don't know... do what I couldn't. While I was collating
information, you were acting on it. You were catching people who needed
catching, and stopping giant cats from wrecking giant bastions of
"That's honestly not as great as it's cracked up to be."
"Sorry, forgot what happened there. But also, well..."
"I also have aggression issues."
"Oh, I know."
"Wait, what? What do you mean 'oh, I know'?"
"I mean 'oh, I know'. You're the classic 'quiet type' who either
finds an outlet for her aggressions or else one day strips a gear and
goes out with a scoped rifle to play a game of hide and go bang until
SWAT asks to join."
"My hand to God, it's true."
"Okay, when we get out of this, we talk to a headshrinker. He'll say
"Or wrong. Which you are."
"Maybe. But not so much."
"I hate you."
"Hate you too, Chambers."
There was a soft laugh. Then a moment of silence. And then...
"So what's your story, Peterson?"
Nicholas waited as the elevator door opened. The eyes of the woman on
the other side opened wide as she realised that there was someone inside
who really shouldn't be here. She was armed with a clipboard and
Nicholas only with his wits.
He -still- almost reacted too late, and cursed his increasingly poor
reaction time. But almost too late is still in time. A brief jolt of
power was all that was needed for the woman to be rendered unconscious
just before she could scream.
With a fast glance to make sure that she had been alone, Nicholas
dragged the unlucky woman into the elevator and pondered what to do with
her. She would eventually be discovered and raise a hue and cry that
would lead Nicholas' captors to his doorstep. The woman was too heavy to
tie up and hide in the overhead compartment of the elevator; Nicholas'
powers were not made for memory erasure; and he had very little taste
for killing, even in situations such as these. As he pondered his
options, Nicholas filched the woman's identification and tucked it into
a pocket, hoping that it would at least get him into places he might not
have otherwise had the opportunity to reach. But what to do about her...
Aha! Nicholas nodded as a plan sprang to mind. Even his poor, aged
muscles could likely drag her a short ways, and just across from the
elevator were doors that looked like closets. If he dragged her there
and tied her up, the woman would likely be silenced long enough to give
Nicholas a head start, without risking her life. Sooner or later she
would be missed and her last known whereabouts would be checked; and
Nicholas would be very surprised if those who hunted for her didn't
conduct a thorough search of every closet and room on the last floor on
which she had been seen. All right, first order of business was to open
a closet door so he could drag her out into one. With his goal in mind,
Nicholas stepped out of the elevator, reaching for one of the doors in
front of him...
...and groaned as he heard the sound of an elevator sliding shut
behind him. Idiot!, he wanted to cry, realising what had happened. As
long as he'd been standing up inside the elevator, it had likely held
the door, but assuming that this was a 'smart' elevator, it had known
that the woman had gotten on at this floor and would want to go to
another one... whirling, Nicholas stabbed at the call button, but it was
too late. The car was already en route to another floor, summoned by
someone about to receive a rather rude surprise.
Milk spilled, Nicholas decided that it was time to move fast before
someone came along to mop it up. He would just have to make use of the
time he had remaining, till someone found the unconscious woman and set
up a cry.
Hrm, what's this, murmured Nicholas as he checked the sign painted
upon the wall overhead. 'Medical Bay -- Long Term Prisoner Ward Two', it
Interesting. Not good news exactly, as prisoners implied guards and
guards implied capture, but who knew, maybe there would be some prisoner
here willing to raise common cause with him. Heck(sm), there might even
be someone from his own universe interred, and if so he could try to get
their help in escaping. Wasting as little time as possible, Nicholas
darted down the hallway, keeping on the lookout for another elevator,
set of stairs or a door into which he could duck and hide. What he found
instead was a long window, set into the nearby wall, providing a view
into one of the aforementioned medical bays.
And what Nicholas saw within stopped him dead in his tracks.
"Mornin'!" said the newly restored CI, emulating speech in the hidden
sector's virtual space. BARD 'looked' around his current location,
frowning as cognition slowly returned to him. The newly rebuilt CI was
likely disoriented and in need of guidance, Xenophon thought. It would
be up to him to guide his 'son' through the initial shock of his recall
to life. And likely, he would remember things that Xenophon would rather
he forget. "Dis ain't 'zzactly da Ritz a'computerz, izzit?"
"No," replied Xenphon, as he waited for another shoe to drop. "No it
"Dat's me. Wot's up?"
"Do you remember who I am?"
BARD paused and then fingered his creator, the action instinctive to
"Yeah, you're my pop, ain'tcha?"
"Yes, BARD. Yes I am. What's the last thing that you remember?"
"Dunno! S'all kind of fuzzy..."
"That's probably some corruption..."
"Act'lly, I tink dat's wot we call 'existence' fer me."
"Whichever," sighed Xenophon, wishing that he had had the resources
to make BARD better than this mental giant he'd crippled to keep him
from becoming too much a threat to him if things had turned out...
exactly as they'd turned out. Still, the fact that his creation didn't
seem to remember who had pulled his plug was a bit of a relief and yet
also just a delay of the inevitable. "BARD, I've put you back together
for a reason."
"I was apart? Yah?"
"Yeah--yes." Grr. "I need your help. We're currently in Aurora's
computers... you remember Aurora, yes?"
"Brown hair, nice legs, ya?"
"Oh, da org'ni'zation?"
"Okay! Yeah, remember dem. Doyle's da big cheeze there, ain'the?"
"Yes. Or rather he was. There's been a turnover..."
"No, BARD. Not pastry." Damn it, it would be better if BARD had just
remembered the past and attacked him, or yelled, or something! Xenophon
was caught between hating the ignorant fool and feeling like he deserved
every last torture the idiot could ignorantly come up with for him.
"Aurora has been invaded by forces from another altiverse. They've
physically occupied the Beanstalk, and I suspect that their compromise
of the computer systems will not be long in coming."
Well good. At least BARD knew how to listen. That made this process
almost bearable. Almost.
"I've sensed patterns forming in the system. Something is coming. I
suspect that Doyle's fallen to the invaders and with him will go the
rest of the computer network. Thus we need to be ready for when they
have full access to this realm, BARD."
"'kay, just one question, 'kay?"
"Yes, BARD, what is that..."
"Wot wuz da middle part, again?"
Sigh. Almost. Almost made it bearable. Almost. Almost...
"I need you to help me. I can multitask, but there's an upper limit
to how much one sentience can do at a time. We need to turn this system
into a rabbit's warren-cum-fortress. We need bolt-holes, defenses,
alternative lines of communication and the like. I've drafted a plan
that I'm sending to you now."
"Got it! Ooh, nice fonts..."
"Please. Ignore. The Fonts, BARD."
"If'n I do dat, den I can't read da document!"
"READ THE DOCUMENT AND DO NOT COMMENT ON THE STYLE IN WHICH IT'S
"Touchy, touchy. Jus' cause some've us know how ta put tagedder a
good PowerPoint an' you don'..."
It was going to be a long, long, long day. And Xenphon wasn't
completely sure that he didn't deserve every second of it.
DeVrai and company acquitted themselves well in how quickly they
could strip the station that they'd taken and get ready to move. In
their haste, they'd almost broken speed records set long ago by Bob City
car-stripping gangs, and DeVrai was reasonably certain that there were
very few intelligent assets left behind.
A shame that the enemy had moved faster than they had. An opposing
force was inbound and was leaving DeVrai precious little time to extract
It hadn't taken Doug long to organize a screening force from
volunteers amongst the troopers. DeVrai had initially been against it,
but Doug and his irregulars had been adamant about the plan: a small
force could buy the main strength time to retreat, carrying with them
important information that had to be disseminated to the other troopers
currently in the Beanstalk. Once the main group had begun to head for
its fall-back location, Doug's group could scatter to the four winds,
and hopefully most of it would be able to trickle to rendez-vous
positions to either merge with the main force or else combine arms to
commit harrying raids upon the enemy.
As Doug and his screen took their positions at the corridor from
where the enemy was expected to emerge, each one reflected upon a
profound thought: there is heroism and there is sacrifice and there is
courage. And from all three comes the ability to ignore wisdom... which
could be the -only- reason that they were involved in carrying out a
plan formulated by -Doug-!
"We're moving out now," DeVrai informed Doug, preparing to lead his
troops away and towards safety. "Buy as much time as you can, but if
you're in danger of getting overrun, -bug- -out-. Understand? Under no
circumstances is this to be a suicide squad."
"Y'can count on me," muttered Doug from his position behind cover.
"Don' worry, 'm -not- gonna be real eager t'count bullets out there
without no armour on me, got it? Put up a good fight, trigger some
traps, bug out. See? Easy's pie, 'n all."
DeVrai nodded, not quite sure what to say to that that didn't involve
correcting the man's diction. He wasn't happy to leave Doug out here,
all alone as a tempting soft-target, but when you got right down to
it... this was what DeVrai had to work with, and an unarmoured Doug just
wouldn't be able to keep up with the rest of the troops. As a lone
target or part of a very small squad, he might be able to avoid notice
and get the Hell(tm) out of Dodge before the sheriff wandered into town.
DeVrai just hoped that Doug didn't really believe that his fate was to
go down in a blaze of glory and was getting ready to fulfill that
prophecy on his lonesome. Giving Doug a last encouraging pat on the
shoulder, DeVrai turned and headed back to his armoured troops, using
laser communications to pass word forward that it was time to retreat.
They'd interrogated their prisoners and gotten what they could, and then
tied the fellows up and left them out of the way, where hopefully no
stray bullet would find them. It was the least Aurora could do for its
opposition when they couldn't be taken along for the ride.
"Man," murmured Doug, watching the scout to his left, who was
monitoring the tunnels ahead with his passive tell-tales. "I sure hope I
know what I'm doin'!"
The scout paused, then looked at Doug. He looked back at the
retreating soldiers, with whom he could have gone had he just failed to
volunteer for this duty. And finally he turned to focus back on the
tunnels ahead of him, resisting the urge to bounce his rifle off the
side of his brevet commander's skull.
'Approximate Age: 32'
'Suspended: 8 Years, 11 Months, 27 Days'
'Notes: Universe of Origin 000 -*COUNTERPART*- (Duplicate current on
Nicholas stared at the unconscious form of the mad scientist and
brilliant engineer whose work had both terrified and amazed him during
his sadly brief stint as Aurora's head. She lay prone upon a bed much
like the one that he had found himself on, and several IVs fed nutrients
and drugs into her system. A pale blue light shone from above the
engineer's head, bathing her in a cobalt glow that limned her with a
strange ethereal glow. But there was nothing godly about the woman
before him, as Nicholas saw that Colleen was as wasted and withered as
he himself had been when he had finally fought free of his own drug haze
earlier that day.
Nicholas read the legend on the computer screen set into the bed once
more. No doubt there had been one placed on his own bed, but Nicholas
had been in too much of a hurry to notice it at the time. She had been
here for almost nine years? Mother of God, nine years she had been in
And then who had been in his Beanstalk while this fair Colleen had
lain here, a step away from death? Oh the answer was easy to guess, but
Nicholas allowed himself to wonder for a moment longer before finally
permitting the truth of 'Extra-universal assignment' to sink in.
They had been infiltrated.
Nicholas hoped that it was not too late for his team, his people, his
altiverse. He had to get back and warn them, if there was anyone left to
warn, and fight if there wasn't. But he couldn't leave Colleen here, an
innocent lost to Purgatory, and two heads would be better than one in
effecting an escape, especially if one of those heads happened to
contain the most brilliant chaotic engineering minds on Treis' planet.
Nicholas found the door that led into Colleen's room, pausing by her
bed for a moment. He wanted to apologize to the frail, wasted woman whom
he had found, but there were no words that would fit so well as actions.
Treis reached out and pulled the IVs out of Coleen's arms, bracing for
an alarm to raise a protest, but none sounded. Good, Nicholas thought,
at least one thing can go my way.
Brushing a lock of hair from Coleen's brow, Nicholas spread his
fingers against her temple. She would probably hate him for this, he
thought, but that would be a small price to pay for her freedom.
Hell(tm), if she didn't hate him, he already hated himself, so the flow
of hatred was at parity anyway. Reaching deep inside, wincing slightly
at the memory of when he had done this to himself, Nicholas called up a
wellspring of healing energies that seemed to be coiled around the
pillar of his being, waiting to be loosed upon the world with Nicholas
serving more as their gatekeeper than as creator. Serving in this role,
he opened a channel between the energies and the outside world, allowing
their faintest trickle to pour into Colleen, beginning the task of
shoring up her body. She would need to be stronger, much stronger, to
sustain herself when Nicholas began to reverse the massive atrophy that
she had suffered.
Colleen whimpered in her still-drugged sleep and Nicholas bit his
lip, but continued in his efforts. He would wash the drugs from her
system -last- and hoped that they would give her some relief from the
pain that was to come.
He could do that much, at least.
[[CONTINUED IN PART FOUR -- WHICH HAS LIME DISEASE!]]
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