SG: Aurora #43 - Old Friends II - Part Five of Five
frobozz at eyrie.org
Wed Dec 29 19:59:35 PST 2004
[[CONTINUED FROM PART FOUR, WHICH IS PERHAPS A TRIFLE LIME-OBSESSED.]]
It had been harder getting Colleen to a computer without being seen
than it had been for her to tap into the local network and call up a map
for the two of them to peruse. Colleen confessed that she had surfed her
dopple's passwords when the other had been typing, and she knew herself
to be absolutely terrible at remembering to change them after they'd
been committed to memory, so even many years later the same ones were
still being used.
Still, it was no parlour trick that saw Colleen calling up and
sorting through foreign computer systems, strange file structures and
weird application suites with an eerie skill, finding what she needed by
inference and discarding what was unimportant with just a glance. She
had Nicholas memorize the location of several computer terminals along
their path, reserved an elevator car for themselves, locked it down to
make sure no one could get on while they did, and found a reasonably
clear route up to 001's Beanstalk's dimensional portal.
She also found the alarm that had been triggered some time ago by
Nicholas' indiscretion with the young woman in the elevator. After a
moment of thought, he told her to leave it running. If it terminated
abruptly, their enemies might suspect that they had been compromised.
The pair enjoyed a fairly quick ascent to their destination,
punctuated only briefly as they had made their way to their elevator
when Nicholas found himself forced to knock unconscious a young man
carrying a missive to a destination unknown. Odds were that he would be
missed, but hopefully not until the two had made themselves scarce from
this floor, so they bundled him into a closet and fled into their
elevator. A fifteen minute ride later, they bundled out, checked a
terminal and soon after had access to the room that would hopefully lead
back to home.
The room where Strike Force Borealis kept its counterpart to Aurora's
dimensional portal was not at all what Nicholas had expected. It was an
immense room, holding a stadium-sized plinth in its middle, from which
extended several struts that rose upwards, then turned to point at the
platform's centre. Around the plinth were guard stations (fortunately
empty right now) and control booths for the portal's operation. Nicholas
spotted coffee cups that had been left behind, perhaps as recently as a
week ago, and everywhere there were signs that this room had been in use
and then left alone for the time being.
As Colleen approached a control booth, Nicholas frowned. "Wouldn't
you think there would be more people staffing this room?" he asked,
keeping a wary eye out for any token guards who might be maintaining a
presence. The sheer size of the room and the presence of the plinth made
it hard to take in any more than a half of the room at a time, and
Nicholas wasn't yet ready to leave Colleen's side to check out the rest.
Splitting up just was not his idea of a good time while behind enemy
"Mmm, perhae..." replied Colleen, absently touching the control
booth's screen. She tapped a few keys, examining the result and frowned.
"Well now, this is a horse o'a different colour..."
"Well. When I was first conductin' my experiments intae altiversal
projection, I encountered a... ah, hrm... a force. A barricade o'sorts.
T'was that which kept me focused on the project, e'en when my interest
should hae waned. I worked, time an' time again tae break through that
A barrier, thought Nicholas, on whose watch Colleen had been
conducting these experiments. Barriers are usually put up to either keep
someone out, or to keep someone in. Did the woman have no sense of
self-preservation? And even if she didn't, would it be possible to train
her to consider the preservation of her species, perhaps?
"Did you break through?"
"Aye... and nay. As the only thing which allowed me tae pierce the
barrier was when my portal locked ontae a matching device. One which
also sought tae pierce the barriers between our worlds."
"Aye. I hae assumed a'first thae t'was just a flaw in my
construction, but..." She shook her head to clear it, trying to call up
memories that were less than fresh in her mind after a long
incarceration. "But t'was strange. When I visited here, just before I
was taken, my duplicate remarked that t'was impossible to leave her
universe save with the help o'another..."
"And this means...?"
"Well, t'would seem thae the reason why this portal hae been
abandoned is because -ours- is currently locked out. There's precious
little way to get from here to there!"
"Is it possible that maybe you were both wrong?" asked Nicholas.
"That perhaps there was a flaw in your constructions?"
"Perhae... but I suspect thae my..." Colleen paused, then shrugged
before saying the word, as distasteful as it felt in her mouth. "Twin
would hae found the flaw in the time between then an' now, if it were
possible. An' I suspect she would hae found it long, long before now..."
"But this room was used very recently. And there's no sign that any
such flaw has been corrected?"
"Nay, the basic interface has been redesigned since I last saw it tae
maintain a lock on our portal. The twinning function hae been further
incorporated intae the device, rather than excised. I would suspect thae
the limitation still remains, an' thae when our captors cross, they must
use this device."
"But someone shut down our portal from the other end? Or maybe there
was an automatic system that did it. Or..."
"The fact remains, Nicholas, we donae know what hae happened. All we
know is thae we hae important information thae must get across the gulf
between the worlds."
"All right then, let's be practical. Is there any way to get from
there to here? Can we open a way?"
Colleen smiled a wicked smile, one that she reserved almost
exclusively for times when she was about to be brilliant and knew it.
"Aye," she replied, starting to tap at the control booth's terminal.
"Aye indeed. My device, it can detect when someone is scanning at the
barrier and lock onto thae. At least in theory it can, but if it's still
as I left it, it should be ready tae do that..."
Nicholas frowned at that. "Colleen, if that is the case then why
haven't these people been able to breach the barrier between the worlds
already? I would think that such a setup would allow them to simply try
and have your device complete the circuit required."
"Challenges, Nicholas. Passwords and codes an' sequences are required
tae operate my device," murmured Colleen, tapping faster. "I will simply
do what they could nae..."
"Shh!" hissed Colleen, brow furrowing. "Ah, here we go... and...
Colleen looked up at the platform, where an absolutely amazing
display of nothing was happening.
"Now thae should nae be."
"Colleen... if they were able to bridge the universes before, it
stands to reason that they had access to your machine. And further, that
they've been using it until something stopped them, or they were
finished with it."
"Hmmm," said Colleen, frowning at the thought of that. "Come tae
think of it, that makes sense..."
"Oh merci," muttered Nicholas, dryly. "So where does that leave us?
High and dry without a hope?"
"No... no, it doesn't." Colleen began to pace, losing herself in
thought, periodically tapping a few keys on the booth's terminal.
"Y'see, whae's likely happened is thae the defensive systems in the
Beanstalk hae activated. Which would mean thae my system is receivin' my
probes, but isnae able tae act upon them. How'ere... there are overrides
tae this system. Unfortunately, if my... ah... lookalike hae been using
my system, she hae likely changed passwords. It's possible she changed
it tae the same one thae she uses for her personal access here, but
there's just as good a chance she decided to use a new one for a new
situation, an' jus' wrote it down somewhere till she finally recalled
"So you're saying to get home, we have to go home, search her desk
and come back here?"
"Nae, nae, nae... because I know a way, perhae tae finesse the
systems tae allow me in. T'will nae be easy, o'course, as I shall be
commandin' a system from an altiverse away, usin' probes tae simulate
commands... t'is a near impossible task. But! If anyone can do it, I
"I'll excuse your utter lack of modesty, my dear Colleen, just this
once. If you can deliver on what you--"
Nicholas' reactions had dulled somewhat from his aging, but he had
always managed to keep himself in good shape despite that. Thus was he
able to dive onto Colleen, knocking her to the floor as a chair, heavy
enough to take someone's head off if thrown with sufficient force,
passed over their heads flung with enough force to take them off.
"I guess they didn't leave this place completely unguarded," muttered
Nicholas, rising. "Do whatever you must. I'll try to keep the heat off
of your back."
Shaken, Colleen rose and scurried to the control booth, hunching down
to make herself a smaller target. Her hands shook slightly her fingers
began to play across the terminal.
It had been a long wait. But the Damned are taught patience, as
eternity is plenty of time in which to cultivate that particular virtue.
The creature which knew itself as the Gladiator had had a -very- long
time to win his patience. He had been a warrior once, a long time ago,
when the world was less tamed than it had since become, and men lived
more in tune with the world about them. Living in harmony with the world
had come easily, but living in harmony with one another had been a
challenge even his people could not face without difficulty. One brother
warred against another for no better reason than because they had taken
different names under which to live as one people, or to acquire
slightly better hunting grounds, or the like. But the people had
codified these rules into an ethical coat of arms, and so long as
everyone lived by these rules, this senseless waste was forgiven as
simply the way of the world.
But some had not lived by those rules, and some had found themselves
dashed to the fiery depths where oath-breakers and kin-slayers
languished forever and a day without release. It was a horrible place to
make one's final resting spot, but it was also a place with plenty of
opportunity for advancement, should one be strong enough to ignore the
torments long enough to take arms against the world around.
Gladiator had done so. And Gladiator had raised himself from a newt
to a near-god over the centuries, drawing power from those struggles,
until his soul had been alloyed with centuries of stolen sins and seized
sufferings. He had been strengthened by what he had taken, but he had
been weakened by subtle means as well. It was the way of Hell(tm):
nothing was given without something being lost in return. It was a way
that suited the Gladiator well.
Gladiator's services had been sold to a mortal, as they had been many
times in the distant past, which also suited him. He had served in life,
so why not in death as well? What had not suited particularly well,
however, was that his master's plan had been halted midway through, and
he had been left to wait, while the path was cleared for it to progress.
Gladiator had waited, stock-still and making those who worked in the
same space where he waited uncomfortable. Soon they were finding excuses
to leave his presence, as though they could smell the power of damnation
that coursed through his veins like the ichor which sustained his
unlife. Finally he had been left alone, the others working from other
areas, and that too suited him. He had no need to chatter and prattle
like those who still breathed; when left alone, Gladiator waited. And
brooded. And fought against his heart, which still tried to speak of
begging forgiveness, no matter how much he schooled it to harden.
And then someone had come. Two someones. And they smelled of the
world to which he was supposed to go, to challenge its greatest
Gladiator seized a chair near to where he had waited, lifted it over
his head, and signaled his challenge by hurling it at the intruders. By
making them flee, perhaps he could encourage them to run back to their
home. He would not fight with all his strength, as he did not want to
destroy these two until they had led him to his destination.
One moved to meet the challenge, though the other hid herself away.
Gladiator shrugged internally at the thought of having to kill one of
the pair. It might even be beneficial to his plans.
After all, he only needed one to show him the way.
"Oh no," sent Xenophon, twice-checking the data that was streaming
in. At once, BARD was at his side, having been just as on-edge as his
creator, and very ready to respond to a crisis.
"This is bad," replied Xenophon, transmitting the data that he had
received. He no longer harboured any doubts about BARD's ability to
process it. A moment later, his creation signaled his receipt and
analysis of the information with just two words.
"The portal's opening," sent Xenophon, moving to another dark space,
trying to access the controls that locked down the gateway between
altiverses. "And someone's overriding the lock-down..."
"Um... why don' we jus' access da d'menshun machine, yaknow,
directly? And shut it down from dere?"
"I've tried," admitted Xenophon, with a sour note to his
transmission. "But I can't make heads or tails of the protocol that
Colleen's using for the dimensional portal's operating system. She'd
bridged it to the Beanstalk's computers just fine, but once you get
inside... my head wants to *die*."
"Hunh," replied BARD. "Y'know, my head wants ta do dat all da time.
Mebbie I'll have da bettah luck."
"Maybe," replied Xenophon, dubiously. "If you want, try it. I'll try
to hold the fort he--"
Oh no, thought both of the CIs at once, as they slunk into hiding
holes. The activity in this location had attracted several of the
enemy's hunter-killer programs to this portion of the network. And
worse, Xenophon could tell that the programs were not of a foreign
craftsmanship. These utilities bore the stamp of having been programed
Xenophon supposed that this answered the question of whether Doyle
was merely being used, or had been turned. He didn't particularly like
the answer that he had received, however. The enemy had clear and
cooperative access to the Beanstalk's computer network.
This was very, very bad for everyone.
BARD made good on his decision, and moved to work at the controls to
the Beanstalk's dimensional gateway. Xenophon did what he could to back
his creation's play, laying chaff and other baffles to confuse the
hunter-killers, leading them away from where BARD was working.
It was the best shot that they had.
It wasn't enough.
"Da gateway's opening," sent BARD, with a groan, as he redoubled his
efforts. "I can't do nothin' 'bout it, eithah!"
Xenophon couldn't spare any attention to check on BARD's news, but he
was well sure that his creation was correct. The way between the two
worlds would be opening, and more than likely, something would be coming
through. More likely, many somethings would force their way from one
universe to another, taking the form of reinforcements aplenty to sweep
through the Beanstalk and mop up what few forces there were remaining to
oppose the invasion.
They had to get the gateway closed before that could happen. But how
they would manage that miracle, Xenophon had precious little idea...
In a small bed-chambers just off of the Beanstalk's control centre, a
young woman possessed of an old soul slept, worn out from a day's battle
against her enemies. Anyone who saw her would wonder how a child so
young could possibly have such care written across her face, even in
The young woman, who had led Strike Force Borealis from its home
universe to 000SUPERGUY in the hopes of a quick and simple takeover, was
awakened by a quiet tone from the communicator that she always left on
her nightstand whenever she slept, wherever she was. She had trained
herself to awaken whenever she heard that sound, no matter how softly it
chimed, as she hated being jarred awake by a rude alert.
Sitting up, the young woman picked up the wrist communicator and
acknowledged her caller with a simple 'yes?'.
"Portal's opening," stated the voice from the other end of the
connection, without preamble. The young woman hated preamble. Around
her, brevity was the soul of wit and the essence of survival. "Not under
our control on this end yet, but we're looking for weaknesses to
"I see," replied the girl, all leftover drowsiness banished by the
news. Her mind began to race with the implications. If the pathway
remained open, she could call in reinforcements from her home. If they
could keep the pathway open, or better still, control when it opened or
closed, this initial skirmish was all but won. Without a doubt, the
Beanstalk's sudden shielding would have caught the attention of the
world at large, but she had plans to deal with such things. Sleeper
agents who could serve well to turn this problem into an advantage. She
had learned, a lifetime ago, that a few well-placed whispers could serve
as well as a hundred riflemen. "Do we have anyone through?"
"One trace. No more."
"I see. What do we know about this trace?"
There was a pause.
"It's him. It's the beast."
The young woman's lips turned to a smile.
"This is not the arena in which I'd hoped to loose him," she replied,
sliding out of bed. "But perhaps he will serve all the better here. I
shall be down in twenty minutes. Have our captive, that Langely woman,
brought to an empty chamber. Do not attempt to bring the Gladiator to
her yourselves. His contract is with me and me alone, and he may kill
anyone who tries to order him about, or worse."
"Understood. It will be done immediately."
"Bon," she replied, clicking off her communicator. Finally, she
thought. Things were starting to look up. The young woman stretched, and
then moved swiftly to dress. It was a good thing too, she reflected. She
had almost... *almost*... begun to worry.
This issue is mine, mine, mine and you can't have it. Nyah and copyright
to Frobozz/Chris Angelini, 2004. Mess with my legal rights and I'll send
over Gggthstx to discuss 'fair use' with you. Email to
frobozz at eyrie.org. Homepage at
http://www.eyrie.org/~frobozz. Anger leads to the dark side. Humour
leads to the Far Side.
frobozz at eyrie.org
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