“Through a Mirror Darkly”
Follow The White Rabbit
Originally posted on February 24th, 2010
[Aug 21, 2009 19:05]
[Elite Guard Barracks]
Supreme Commander SlashFirestorm sat at his desk, looking over the piles of paperwork stacked on all sides. He never realized just how much administrative work had to be done on a daily basis just to keep things running. “Man, if things don’t get better soon, I may just take that early retirement plan”, he thought as he signed off on some purchase orders and reviewed some inventory reports.
“Whoops! That one almost slipped by!” he whispered, as he noticed the requisition and release form for three cases of blammunition. “Gotta make this disappear!”, and he ran the forms through the security shredder, making a neat pile of confetti. He went to his private terminal and logged on with an alternate administrator ID. At the command prompt, he typed the cryptic line: IPXC d:7080 q:3 and pressed [enter]. A moment later, the display showed the digit “1”, and then automatically logged off the workstation. To any of the administrators on the system, it looked like a simple network checking tool. It didn’t seem to do much of anything.
But Slash knew otherwise. That little utility was a present from EagleRock. It ran a well-hidden worm that removed all traces of all documents linked to a requisition, and from a database standpoint, made it look like it never happened. It was the missing piece that allowed Slash to acquire ammunition and weapons from the EGB and get them into EagleRock’s hands. Or, at least, that’s why it was designed a few years ago – to help bury the trail of the occasional weapons and ammo that EagleRock needed to stay undercover.
However, as time passed, Slash realized he could hide just about any requisition. With the help of a few unwitting privates who didn’t disobey any orders, he started his own black market of stolen EGB hardware. He figured if he could steal for EagleRock, he might as well steal for himself and make some money along the way. He kept primarily to older weapons and the surplus shelves, since these items were generally inventoried once a year. Any discrepancies could be explained away as “used in target practice” or “defective and discarded”.
Slash went over to the corner of his office, slid a fake potted plant out of the way, and rolled back the carpet from the corner, revealing a small floor safe. Keying in the digital combination, he heard the locking mechanism slide away with a subtle clicking sound. Opening the safe, he pulled out a well-worn PDA . He turned it over, and opened the back panel. Reaching down again, he found the battery pack, and installed it in the unit.
The green power indicator turned on, and he watched as the LED screen lit up and the unit found a carrier signal.
Suddenly, from behind, he heard a crackly static sound, followed by an urgent voice, “Commander SlashFirestorm, we have a situation!”
His heart began to race, and in his nervous surprise, he dropped the PDA as he spun around to see who interrupted him.
But no one was there. It was the intercom, and the duty commander had just buzzed through on the direct channel.
Feigning composure, Slash answered, “What is the situation, Corporal Michelinman?”
“Supreme Commander ByteSlinger is an hour late from returning from Portal duty. We have been unable to reach her by any electronic means”, came the reply.
Slash figured that Byte was doing some off-scope research on the secret mission, and lost track of time. “Copy that. Give her another thirty minutes, and if she hasn’t reported in by then, let me know.”
“Yes, Commander. But there is one more thing you should know. “, the voice added. Slash tilted his head and had the same puzzled look on his face that a dog has when he watches his master take a dump on the toilet.
After a brief pause, Michelinman continued, “We have several eye-witness accounts that she was seen entering a wooded area near the portal – but no one saw her return. Porkchop, Idiot-Finder and Ismael92 went in to find her, and discovered that there were signs of a struggle, with blood on the ground. A spent rifle casing was found nearby, along with a lot of weeds and grass that had been trampled. But there was no sign of Byteslinger or the other combatant. We think that she may have been kidnapped...”
Slash was stunned for a moment from this latest development. “Aw, fuck me!”, he exclaimed. “Belay that last order. I’ll put together a search team right away. Slash out”, and he shut off the intercom.
Things were starting to spin out of control. ByteSlinger was going to do some recon and find the guys responsible for the illegal gun trade. “She wasn’t supposed to engage the enemy now. “, he thought to himself. “That was to happen later – where she would die a hero’s death while killing off the scum in the General District. The papers would all say that she died on a mission to stop the gun runners, and any survivors would get the brunt of the public wrath. But more importantly, it would get the heat from the EGB off my ass, and let me walk away from this mess while I still can.”
He was quiet as he picked up the PDA off of the floor, reseated the battery, and then typed in a short text message:
STS? - and then sent it off.
A few seconds later, he received this reply: OK+16K+5C+12R=4D+19H+OK
To anyone else, it looked like an odd math equation. But between him and his contact on the outside, it told a whole story. “OK” = the deal went well. “16K” – made $16,000 on the sale. “5C+12R” = need 5 more cases of ammo and 12 rifles, “4D+19H+OK” = “Can you have them in 4 days, delivered at 7PM?”
He thought for a moment, and replied back “OK”
Ten seconds later, the screen blipped with “OKO “=“Ok, over and out”. He pulled the battery out of the unit, put it back in the floor safe, and hid all traces of his conversation. But he was disgusted by the whole thing. He had wanted out months ago, but once he hooked up with the NewGrounds Mafia, there was no way out – except death. He just couldn’t stop selling them those guns and ammo. They would kill him, but only after they tortured, hurt and killed those he loved and cared about first. They were quite clear about that.
“I have no choice”, he said to the plant. He talked to the plant a lot. It was cheaper and safer than therapy, and it was really good at keeping secrets. “I want out, and the only way to do that is to send someone in to clean up my mess – even if they have to be unfortunately sacrificed in the process. But now…did she blow her cover? Is my plan ruined? Where the hell did Byte go? And who has her? It must’ve been either by surprise or a big group of ninjas got her, because she wouldn’t go down easy.”
He sat quietly for a moment, then clicked on his intercom to the staff secretary.
“Yes, Commander?”, a chipper voice answered, much to his dismay.
“Please contact SlntCobra1, Lizzardis, PorkChop, Fro and A-Wahl. Tell them to meet me in Hanger 4 at 20:00, and be battle and recon ready. They will be part of the search team for ByteSlinger. Over and out”, and before the secretary could answer, he flipped off the intercom.
He sat back down on his desk, pulled open the bottom drawer, and grabbed the half-empty bottle of Loch Lomond Scotch from behind a few folders. He removed the stopper with a single yank, and then chugged a few swallows like it was lemonade. It stung a little going down, but once it hit his stomach, he began to feel warm inside again, and life became a little blurry and softer. He sat back, cradling the bottle like a small pet, and tried to relax a little. He looked at the clock on the desk, and it displayed 19:15 in bright blue neon LEDs.
Half smiling, he confided again to the plant,” Well, I got 45 minutes to pull a plan out of my ass. No pressure here!”, ending the sentence with another half-dozen swallows of the Loch Lomond.
[Aug 21, 2009 19:15]
ByteSlinger stayed in the shadows as the Hummer drove away, and waited for the streets to stay quiet for a while before she ventured forward. Looking around furtively, she saw no sign of EagleRock – either one of them – or anyone else. The air stank of old garbage and low tide as a warm breeze wafted in from the river. Realizing that she was alone, she began to think about her options. “I’m alone, stranded in the General district, and it’s going to get dark soon. I have no weapons, and I’m not even quite sure where I am. I’ve missed the 18:00 return time, so I know someone at the EGB is going to start worrying about me. But I’m not supposed to be here, so I can’t call for help. And the one guy who got me here vanished mysteriously just before my little scuffle. Just like a man to disappear when you need him to commit to something. So, what to do, what to do?”
She stepped back into the alley and the small street where she just had finished her fight, and checked to see if any of her attackers had moved or left. A quick glance showed that none of them had moved – and her infrared vision showed that all three bodies were below 90 degrees. “All dead. “, she whispered out loud, almost ashamed. “More needless blood on my hands – but it was either them or me, and I had no choice.” She stepped closer to the first body – the one she electrocuted – and noticed that he had a shoulder holster under his coat. She rolled the body on its back, and removed the Springfield .45 from the holster. It had a full clip, and the safety was on. “Oh, what the hell”, she muttered, and began to search the dead man’s corpse for anything worthwhile. “It’s just like in Dungeons and Dragons,” she thought. “First, you kill the bad guys – then you ransack them”.
It took a few minutes to search all three men, but she was surprised at what she found. One had been carrying an envelope full of cash – over $20,000 in hundred-dollar bills. Another had two more handguns, along with an expensive cell-phone/PDA and enough gold chains to start a small jewelry store. The third had a ring of keys and what appeared to be a lock pick set. None of them had wallets or IDs – and all three of them were wearing the same ring on their right hand – a black onyx crystal, oval cut, in a gold base. The gold base had two symbols on it – a pyramid with an eye in the center, and the other was a hollow circle with ten lines sticking out of the edge. Obviously, they were members of some gang or organization – and these rings gave them recognition. Byte grabbed all three rings, and slid the best fitting one on her right hand. The other two went inside her inner shirt, along with the money, chains, keyring and PDA. One gun went into her waistband at her lower back; the second was in the holster on her shoulder, and the third strapped to her ankle.
“I feel a little more secure now”, she thought, as she dragged the bodies behind a dumpster and covered them with a few stray garbage bags. “And I have plenty of cab fare, too.”, she chuckled. But then she remembered that her outfit, ID and weapons were in EagleRock’s hidden sewer apartment. She had to get them first before she could return to the EGB.
The sun was lower now in the sky, and the tall, abandoned buildings cast long shadows in the streets. Byte shuffled slowly to her shopping cart, picked it back up, and reprised her role as a crazy bag lady as she headed out back to the sewer grate exit. “Best way to hide is in plain sight”, she whispered as the shopping cart rattled along, drowning out her occasional random mumbling. No one was on the street, but a few pair of curious eyes peered out through curtains and shades to see what was making the noise. Satisfied that it was only a harmless street bum, they all went back to their daily lives without a second thought.
Byte found the sewer grate entrance, and worked her way back inside. She found the flashlight hidden behind a brick, and used it to follow the fiber-optic wire back through the maze of sewer tunnels. Eventually, she found the ladder up to the hidden room, and she listened carefully before she tried to get in. She heard nothing from the room, and with a little pushing and prodding, moved the cover out of the way and worked herself back into the main room.
A quick search confirmed that she was alone, so she put the cover back in place, and then slid the security bar into place over it. This prevented anyone from climbing up from the sewers and surprising her. Then she powered up the small generator, and got a few lights to cooperate. After a quick wash-up in the sink, she changed out of her bum clothes and put back on her outfit. Everything was where she left it: weapons, ammo, tops, bottoms, headgear – so there was no problem slipping everything back on, regaining her proper rank and title.
She slid all of her corpse-booty into various pockets and pouches on her camo uniform, including the extra guns and ammo. Opening the fridge, she grabbed an MRE and some Pepsi, and had a little snack while she waited for EagleRock to hopefully show up.
“Why the Hell did he run off – and to where?”, she said out loud to the empty room. As she sat back and glanced at the clock on the wall, she realized it was almost 8:00 PM . “Oh, crap”, she muttered, “I was due back at the Barracks two hours ago. They’re going to be looking for me soon. I can’t wait here – I’ve got to get back”
Byte stood up, and as she was walking to the exit door, she heard a familiar crackling sound behind her. The air filled with the smell of ozone from the static charge as she spun around to see two soldiers in unfamiliar armored uniforms step out of a portal and aim their weapons at her. Instinctively, she drew her left arm up to fire an energy burst, but the soldier on the left fired his rifle. Instead of a projectile, she felt a wave of energy pass over her. Then she felt nothing at all. She tried to move, but every muscle seemed to be locked in place. All she could feel was her heart pounding in her chest, and her lungs breathing shallowly. This technology was new to her – too new.
The soldier on the right looked a little familiar – she couldn’t quite place the face, but he reminded Byte of someone she knew. She could see the insignia on his uniform – it was a stylized double-ellipse with the initials ETG in gold. It looked almost like an hourglass viewed at an odd angle. On his chest, where a pocket might be, was an insignia bar with an interesting logo on it. It was two interlocking circles, one blue and one yellow, stretched out to make the sideways-eight symbol for infinity. On each side of the logo were a pair of gold wings, and inside the logo she could see “TC-2” in red. Under it was the name: “M.P. Stone”
He looked at Byte, then to his partner, and asked “Is this her?”
The other soldier had secured his rifle, and pulled what looked like bar-code reader off his belt and aimed it at Byte. He pulled the trigger, and a brief flash of dull blue light illuminated the room. The device beeped and hummed for a moment, and then quietly stopped. Byte stood helpless as the soldier smiled and announced, ”Yes – this is the one we’ve been looking for!” She could see his name on his uniform now – it was “S. Feuer”
M.P. Stone looked at Byte, shook his head slowly, and then started his speech. “Supreme Commander Byteslinger, you are under arrest for numerous violations of the Temporal Prime Directive of 2651, including tampering with the natural timeline for personal gain, introducing forbidden technology to alternate dimensions – and, of course, murder. You have the right to remain silent, and anything you will say has already been recorded and will be used against you. You have the right to an attorney, but since no lawyer in his right mind would ever take your case, you’ll be assigned a court-appointed syntho-legal to speak for you. You have the right to a speedy trial, and yours begins in one relative hour. How do you plead?”
Feuer pushed a button on his scanner, and Byte was now able to move her head and neck – and even speak.
“Plead?”, she answered, “You’ve shown me no proof that you are who you say you are. You could be just another pair of idiots with a portal device trying to get their rocks off by screwing with people’s heads. I do not recognize you, your uniform, or your authority. Yeah, you got some nice little toys here – but that doesn’t mean you’re a time-cop!”
“Looks like you’re not going to come along quietly, huh?”, said Feuer
“No, she wouldn’t”, answered Stone,” we knew that from her profile. Let’s just take her in – she has to be stopped now.”
“Wait!”, Byte pleaded, “I have to finish my mission here. There are things I need to make right. And I…”
Stone cut her off before she could finish her sentence. “You’ve done enough damage here already – and nothing you can do will make it better!”
“But I have to stop SlashFirestorm from sending my friends into a trap – and EagleRock is still stuck here, too! We can’t leave him here!”
Stone laughed out loud, like Byte had just told the funniest joke in the world. “You just don’t get it, do you? This ISN’T your dimension – and it ISN’T your problem. Everything was going along as it should until you stumbled in and messed things up trying to be a hero.”
“People are going to die! I swore to protect my comrades in the EGB as I protect the portal. I couldn’t sit by and let them get hurt or killed if I knew it was going to happen!”, she retorted.
“Well, first off, did it ever occur to you that maybe the ByteSlinger you killed would have taken care of this anyway? But more importantly, did it ever occur to you that you have no business here – regardless of what you perceive as right or wrong? Oh, and as for your alternate commander EagleRock – he’s been secured and is in our custody. You are the last part of this cleanup – and we still have a big mess to undo.”
Byte stood there, taking in everything Stone had said. She could understand what he was saying – but she couldn’t agree with it. “What if the natural course of this dimension DOES include interference from other dimensions? What if YOUR involvement in stopping me is wrong – and what I’m doing is the correct course?”
Feuer shook his head at her. “No, the Temporal Prime Directive is quite clear. After examining centuries of history – and any temporal violations that occurred – it was proven that any interference between dimensions was unnatural. We have encountered dimensions where the inhabitants travel through time as easily as you can walk across a room – but they stay within their dimension, and therefore don’t violate the Directive. We are firm in our belief that any cross-dimensional temporal interference is detrimental.”
Byte was getting angrier with each passing comment. Instinctively, she gave the command to her arm to recharge the firing capacitor for another attempt at an energy pulse. But she did it slowly, in hopes that it wouldn’t be detected by either one of her captors.
Stone spoke when Feuer finished. ”You are here by accident. Your last Portal jump was faulty – but even if you did land back in your own dimension, you are still in violation of the Temporal Prime Directive, section 4B – no single entity will use a temporal transit device in order to attempt to alter history for their own personal gain.”
“Personal gain?”, asked Byte, trying to stall for more time as her arm recharged, “I was bounced through the Portals by accident. We were being invaded by an alternate universe, and I was caught up in their plans. All I wanted to do was shut them down!”
“And then go back in time and prevent the deaths of your friends – which is for personal gain - a clear Temporal transgression”, added Stone, “but you had to jump prematurely – and that’s how you got here.”
Byte felt the onboard response from her arm. The capacitor was at 100% now, and ready to fire. She was hoping that she could knock out the force field and take out one of the soldiers – and maybe level the playing field. Just as she was thinking about waiting for the perfect moment, Feuer picked up his scanner, aimed it at Byte and said “We’ll have none of that now!”. He pulled the trigger, and another wave of energy passed over Byte. “What…”, she started to protest, but was then rendered unconscious by the energy field. She fell unceremoniously into a heap on the floor, only to be scooped up by the two guards, who carried her into the portal.
The portal closed with a slight crackling sound, and then the room was silent once more.
Byte woke up to the sensation of falling. She opened her eyes, and although she could feel her body fall, she could see nothing but black. No points of reference, no natural light sources. She tried to shift the spectrum with her optic, but that wasn’t responding. In fact, she was getting no readings at all.
“Damn! That last energy blast knocked out my implants!”, she muttered – or so she thought. Something puzzled her. “Hey! Where am I?!?!”, she screamed – or tried to. In her mind, she was bellowing, but her ears picked up nothing. No bone conduction from her own voice, no echoes, nothing.
She then realized that she couldn’t feel her own arms or legs. In her mind, she commanded them to move, to reach out, to try to find something – including herself. But she felt nothing. She was conscious – or at least coherent – but completely detached from her body.
“But how can I feel motion?”, she thought. “I know I’m not dead. But I can’t feel my body. Was there an accident? Am I a vegetable brain sitting in a paralyzed body, trapped in this darkness? I know who I am – and I remember being zapped before passing out. I’m certain I was dragged back through that portal – but since I was out cold, I have no idea what happened next. Maybe I’m still out cold, or in a coma. Or maybe the portal got fouled and I’m stuck between dimensions. Or maybe, I just have no freakin’ idea what the hell is going on, and right about now would be a good time to start panicking!”
Her mind started racing, and suddenly, the sensation of falling seemed to accelerate. “Oh, great … wait a minute…when I started to lose control, I started to fall faster. That’s interesting…which means…”
In her mind, she took a deep breath, and calmed herself down. She visualized herself standing firm and at ease, in control, calm and collected. The falling sensation slowed down again, and within a few moments, stopped completely.
“Aha! That’s it! Whatever is going on here is responding to my thoughts and feelings. If that is so, it’s possible that with the right mindset, I can figure out a way to escape this darkness.”
Byte took another mental deep breath. “Well, for starters, if there is a way out, it would be through a door or doorway or portal of some sort. I can’t see it with my eyes, so I’ll have to see it with my mind.” She cleared her thoughts, and pictured a white door glowing in the darkness, something easy to spot even a long way off. She pictured it in front of her, a nice white, wooden door - one that you would find on the front porch of your Grandmother’s house. Something simple and inviting and unlocked…
Slowly, a small white dot appeared in front of her. It appeared to be far away, but it was there. “Finally, a reference point – and hopefully a way out!” Then she pictured in her mind that she was jogging double time, comfortably running towards the door. With each step, she would get closer and the door would grow bigger.
The white dot responded to her thoughts, and gradually grew in size until Byte could see that it was rectangular. A few moments later, she could see it as a door, with a brass handle and rusty hinges in a distressed wood frame. This door had seen a lot of wear and tear, but it still looked solid.
She pictured herself getting closer, and reaching out her hand to open the handle. The door grew to a respectable height, and seemed to hover within arms reach. As she made a mental grab for the door handle, she noticed that there was a handwritten note pinned to the door. “I didn’t imagine that…” she thought, and willed herself closer to read the words:
“Be careful what you wish for…”
She recognized the handwriting – it was her own. Was this a warning, or just good advice? Byte regained her focus, and imagined her right hand reaching for the handle and opening it. She saw the lever move, and the door opened inward slightly. She tried to peer in, but as she willed herself towards the door, it swung open, and she was pulled inside. She fell forward, and started to roll. The bright sunlight blinded her, and she could feel the grass and the dirt on her hands and knees as she rolled down the hill. It smelled like a meadow after a rain shower – all clean and fresh and clear.
Byte finally stopped tumbling, and wound up sitting down, facing the meadow with the hill behind her. She stood up quickly, turned around and looked up – but there was no sign of a doorway, just a grassy hill with a few trees and some small bushes, and a few butterflies fluttering around the wildflowers.
“Looks like it’s time to find another way out…”, she grumbled, and turned to face the meadow. In the distance, she could see someone – or something – coming towards her. It didn’t seem to be dangerous, but then again…
As it grew closer, Byte could see that whatever it was, it had long, white floppy ears. “Christ on a roller coaster! Is that a giant rabbit?”
Yes, it was. It was wearing a dark blue vest over matching pants, and it seemed to be preoccupied with a pocket watch that he held in his right hand. Byte stood there silently as the giant rabbit approached. Suddenly, it looked up at her. Even though it was a rabbit, the face reminded her of someone – it was somehow familiar, but she couldn’t put her finger on it.
“I’m late! I’m late! And so are you, young lady! We shouldn’t be late for tea, now follow me! Good thing you’re already dressed for it! Come along!” And without waiting for a response, the rabbit took off again, into the woods.
“What the hell???...”, she thought. “This is something right out of ‘Alice in Wonderland’! And me, dressed for a tea party – yeah, like they want to see a dirty soldier …in…camo…”, and her voice trailed off as she looked down at herself.
Instead of her GI boots, she had on white party shoes and anklet socks that had lacy tops. Her legs were exposed because she was now wearing a blue and white party dress. Both of her arms looked quite human, and when she turned her head, she caught a glimpse of her ponytail – it was much longer now, and quite blond.
“Oh, man, I must be tripping on some good shit!”, she said out loud. The rabbit stopped, turned, looked at her and said “Hey, bitch, you’re gonna make us late! Get your blond ass over here NOW!”
“Well, the rabbit in Lewis Carroll’s story would never use that language”, she mused. “So this is another test, another illusion – but in the Looking Glass genre. Is this a metaphor? Is my mind trying to put some sense into all of portal traveling I’ve done? Or have I finally gone insane?”
Then she realized that she had two choices – follow along with the story, or change it. In the original story, after a bunch of stupid interactions with the local crazies, Alice eventually finds her way home. But she could have done that by bypassing all the useless fools that wasted her time.. And quite frankly, Byte just wasn’t in the mood to be playing parlor games now.
She looked back at the rabbit, game him the finger and said, “Fuck you! I’m NOBODY’S BITCH! And if you have the furry little balls to come back here and say it to my face, I will beat you down so hard no one will recognize you!”
The rabbit turned fully to face Byte, put the watch back into his pocket, and gave her a very evil grin. His eyes started to glow, and his cute little bunny teeth started to grow into menacing fangs. Claws erupted from between the toes on his paws, and he seemed to get a little wider and more muscular.
“So, you want a piece of this, huh? Well here it comes!”, and he bounded towards her. Byte's self-defense training automatically came into action. She took a stance, and stood still as her antagonist ran towards her, fangs gleaming and claws swinging. She watched his movements, followed his stride, and made a few mental notes. Shifting her weight to her back foot, she waited for the rabbit from Hell to make his move.
He came at her fast, but at the last second, Byte ducked down, turned her hip, and grabbed his arm. In a classic judo move, she stood up, and using his own momentum, tossed the furry bastard flying over her shoulder – and into the tree a few feet behind her. She heard a hollow thump and then a cracking sound. The rabbit gave out a quick groan and then said nothing more as his body slumped to the tree roots.
She waited a moment to see if he was getting back up – but he wasn’t moving. She walked around him in a wide circle, not getting too close in case he was playing possum and waiting for her to get within arms reach. When she could see his face, she noticed that blood was trickling from his ears and nose, and good portion of his forehead had been dented.
When she got closer, she realized he wasn’t breathing. She reached for his neck, looking for any vein or artery, She could feel what should have been one, but there was no pulse.
“Uh oh!”, she said to the flowers, “Looks like the rabbit died! Someone is in BIG trouble!” She rolled the rabbit on his back, and went through his pockets. All that he had was the watch. She grabbed it, popped it off the fob, and took a good look at it.
From the outside, it looked like a conductor’s watch – there was an old locomotive etched on one side, and on the back was a picture that looked like a train station. But it wasn’t right. The station looked way too modern and new to be paired with the old locomotive on the front. “Oh, well, guess it’s just a cheap knock-off. Let’s see if it’s running…”
Byte opened up the watch, and stood there in amazement at what she saw. Instead of a watch face with numbers on it, she was staring at a mini-portal! She could see through the portal hole to the other side – it looked like the Barracks! Some men were approaching, and she could see that one of them was Phantom!
“Hey, Phantom! Can you hear me?”, and she yelled and waved. But no one seemed to notice her. She looked down, and picked up a pebble . “Let’s see if this is a portal!”, and she dropped the pebble into the middle of the portal screen.
A moment later, a huge boulder appeared in the Barracks courtyard and began rolling through to the motorcade. Byte watched in horror as it crushed a few jeeps and came to rest next to the commander’s quarters.
The courtyard was abuzz with activity. “Where the hell did that come from?”, demanded Phantom, “is this someone’s idea of a bad magic trick?”
So, sound wouldn’t travel through it– and it seems to be a one-way portal, as no one had mentioned anything about the black, undulating gateway floating in the sky. And there was definitely a spatial difference – anything that passes through the watch would be enlarged in the alternate visible universe.
“So, all I have to do is find something to shrink me to a one-inch height, and I’m outta here!”, she exclaimed.
Rifling through the Rabbit’s outer vest, Byte also found a guitar tuner and an invitation to the Queen’s tea party. Why the Rabbit had a guitar tuner in his pocket is still a mystery today - no one really knows why he carried it around!
Byte stood up and began to walk through the meadow, heading in the direction the rabbit had chosen before. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and the fish happily flew by in colorful schools.
She did a double-take when the fish drifted by. “I don’t remember them in Wonderland”, she said out loud.
“Then again, Alice didn’t murder the White Rabbit in that story, either”, a male voice spoke quietly behind her, making her jump and spin around in a defensive crouch.
At first, she saw no one behind her. Then she noticed the floating smile. “Ah, so who’s my Cheshire Cat?”, she asked. “The voice sounds familiar…”
Slowly, a head, torso and body materialized. It was Stone, dressed in the same uniform as when they first met. He smiled again, and continued speaking. “It is hard to imagine that such a violent race never destroyed itself completely. Every challenge is met first by the ego and then by a weapon. For the allegedly most intelligent race on the face of the planet Earth, you are all barely more than well-dressed chimpanzees. Oh, you feel bad when you kill – but that doesn’t stop you from doing it again…”
Stone looked at Byte as his words hung heavy in the air. She looked a little puzzled at first, and then his diatribe sunk in, making her angry. “Nature is violent”, she retorted, “The strong survive, the weak die off, and we all wind up as someone else’s lunch. And despite all of this, the universe really couldn’t care less. I have been trained to be strong, to protect those who are law abiding and punish those who are not…”
“And who are you to be judge, jury and executioner?”, he interrupted. “Why does your will and your point of view matter more than those who you seek to punish? How do you justify your actions if you make a mistake?”
Byte’s face was red as her blood pressure welled up. She had a strong desire to pound the shit out of this guy. “How dare you diminish me and the job that I do! I represent law and order and fairness…”
“Bullshit!”, he interjected. “You have always been anti-establishment. You hate to follow the rules, but you chose a military life anyway. Why? So you could be trained in weapons and self-defense. You figured you’d put a few years in, build up your skills, gather some weapons, make some contacts – and then work in the private sector making big bucks as a bodyguard or bounty hunter. But until then, you would play the ‘soldier girl’ role. Losing your arm and your eye changed that. You felt incomplete, less than a woman – unlovable and undesirable. This drove your desire for vengeance even stronger, and you made the EGB your life. A perfect cover up – you get to practice taking out the bad guys in the name of law and order. But that didn’t work. You made mistakes, and you have regrets and guilt…”
“We all make mistakes”, she said, “and sometimes we wish we could go back in time and fix them.”
“That was your BIGGEST mistake”, Stone yelled. “You stumbled across a portal in your world – which, by the way, was introduced from an alternate dimension in direct violation of the Temporal Prime Directive.”
“I had to stop them – they were going to …uh, already did…might have tried to blow up the EGB headquarters.”
“We knew that – and we were ready to step in and take care of things. Did you ever have a feeling of deja-vu where you said to yourself ‘ wow, that was close’ or ‘that could have really ended badly?’ Odds are you were sensing a timeline continuum repair. Something externally had affected your time/space continuum, and we were sent back to clean it up – professionally. But every time we tried to intervene, something shifted the time line. That something was YOU!”
“Me? I’ve only made a few jumps. How could I have been responsible for all the rest?”
“Between you trying to double-back on yourself to fix your mistakes, and the cross-contamination between nearby dimensions, we have been cleaning up after dozens of you. You have been keeping us busy for a while – and we’re not finished yet!”
“I know”, Byte replied. This whole conversation was exasperating her. “I have to go back and make things right – and you’re in my way! And what happened with EagleRock? I promised him I’d help him get back, too. There are just too many loose ends, and you’re not helping my cause right now.
Stone took a step back, and started laughing so hard that he could barely contain himself. He sat down hard on the grass, and Byte watched with confusion as he literally was rolling-on-the-floor laughing.
“What the hell is so funny?”, Byte demanded
Stone looked up, tears in his eyes, and said between chuckles, “You.”
“Me? You’re nuts! I couldn’t be more serious. I’m not going to stand around here any more to be mocked and abused by someone who claims to be a time cop. When you’re ready to be serious, find me!
“But…But…where are you going?”, Stone stammered as he began to calm down.
“For starters, I’m going to follow the path through the woods that the rabbit was going to take, and see what I could find there.
“Really?”, he answered. “What rabbit? What path?”
“That rab…”, and Byte’s sentence stopped mid syllable as she turned to look at the defunct rabbit – but he wasn’t there any more. Neither was the tree he hit. There was no path, and as Byte turned slowly around in a full circle, all she could see was a flat meadow covered in grass to the horizon, and a clear blue sky with the sun directly overhead.
“Well, that shut her up”, another familiar voice spoke behind Byte, and she turned to see who else was here.
It was Feuer, also decked out in his uniform. He was standing next to Stone now, and they both were watching Byte like a scientist observes a rat in a cage.
“Do you know where you are?”, Stone asked Byte, “Do you know why you’re here?”
“Well, it started off as an odd trip through Wonderland, but it went off on a tangent. The only thing left is me in this blue dress.”, was her reply.
“Dress? You’re not in a dress”, answered Stone. Byte looked down at herself – she was back in her camo outfit again and her implants were back and online.
Byte stopped to think. “Where am I? Well, it’s not a place where normal physics apply, so either I’m in some sort of oddball dimension - or subdimension – or, I’m in some sort of simulation. Or maybe, I’m nowhere at all…”
She looked at Stone and Feuer, and said “I think I know where I am…I am not here. This is all a mental projection or some sort of simulator – and my mind is somehow connected to it. I’m not sure where – or when – my body is, but since I still have my thoughts, I gather that my mind is still functioning…”
Neither Stone nor Feuer gave her an answer, but Stone managed a slight grin, as if to acknowledge that she was on the right track.
“So, which is it?”, Byte asked. “Is this something like ‘The Matrix’ and I’m jacked into some sort of computer, or am I running around in a controlled dream-world like J-Lo did in ‘The Cell’?”
“It’s not a computer simulation”, Feuer answered her, “but it’s not your subconscious, either. You are quite conscious right now – you’re just not connected to the physical body that you’ve grown fond of. You are in a dimension where the thoughts of those who exist here can change the very fabric of existence. You felt it before. You started out in blackness, and wanted a way out. You thought of a door, and one appeared. You entered the door, and fell into Wonderland.”
“That wasn’t what I was thinking!”, she rebutted
“No, but it was what WE were thinking”, came a quick reply from Stone. “This realm does follow some rules. For example, the more people who want something a certain way, and believe in it, will have their manifestations materialize, despite the few that may think differently. Simple physics – the stronger force prevails. We wanted to toss you into “Wonderland” as a metaphor for your journeys. You saw it, accepted it, and without realizing it, reinforced it. But we altered it by making the rabbit a little more obnoxious. We wanted to see how you would respond to something so strange – but possibly dangerous.”
“Once that rabbit started acting nasty, the gloves were off! I didn’t mean to kill him. I just wanted to throw him down, but I hit the tree by accident”, Byte exclaimed.
“Funny thing about that tree”, added Feuer. “It wasn’t there when you first saw the rabbit…”
“You bastard! You put it there at the last minute so he could hit it! His death is on YOUR hands.”
“Death?”, asked Stone. “For something to die, it would have to be alive. There is nothing alive here. Not the rabbit, or the grass, or even you or us. We are physical manifestations of thoughts. You can only die here if you believe that you can be harmed by mere shadows. Some have died here, thinking that this is reality. But it’s not.”
“Then what is it?”, she asked, “Why bring me here? To test me? To punish me?”
“To teach you”, answered Stone. “To show you that there not only places beyond your imagination, but places that exist only because of your imagination. To open your mind beyond four dimensions, and to put into perspective what is important and what isn’t.”
“My friends are important. So is my family. I liked my life and who I was. I am part of something bigger than me, and I took an oath to defend and protect those who stand by me, and the innocent people who need my help.”
“Of course”, answered Feuer. “Those ideals are certainly important for your home dimension. But they only apply there. Here, in this realm, with a thought you can change just about anything. You can recreate your world as you desire, and live it to your heart’s content. If something is wrong, you can make it right at any time.”
“You would be God here”, added Stone.
“But none of it would be real!”, protested Byte. “It would just be the sum total of all that I imagine!”
“True.”, replied Feuer, “but you could imagine other people in this world that could think independently and make their own decisions. They would add a level of chaos and uncertainty that makes life interesting.”
“You don’t get it! They’re NOT REAL! They don’t have souls. They’re just created from my imagination!”
Stone looked at Byte squarely in the eyes, and quietly spoke. “For all of the people you’ve befriended in your realm, for all the things that you’ve seen and know, how do know for a fact that they are real in the conventional sense, or just a manifestation of someone’s imagination? How many real souls are there in your realm?”
Byte lowered her head. She didn’t know how to answer that. Then, after a pause to gather her thoughts, she looked up again, and carefully chose her words. “The concept of perceptual reality always intrigued me, and in this dimension, it was quite obvious that it certainly exists. Did it exist everywhere else, or only in certain continuums? And what about my home dimension? How much of that is real – and how much isn’t?”
Feuer looked at Byte and smiled. “There is only one answer to that: the only reality is coherent thought. Through all dimensions and all realms, physical laws can vary. But the concepts of intelligence and communication span all of them. There are coherent, organized and intelligent sources of energy – which some call souls, and others call spirits – that through will of thought, create and reinforce the reality around them.”
Byte was trying to soak it all in when Stone interjected his thoughts. “The truth is – there is no truth. Every reality, every realm, every alternate dimension exists because the beings that inhabit them believe it to be so. At the quantum level, we exist across all of these realms, unaware that we are one and the same. There are multiple manifestations of a single soul – and many of these manifestations are unaware of the others.”
“Oh, come on!”, Byte retorted, “You mean to tell me that reality is what we believe it to be, and that despite the fact that I have run into – and even killed – a few of my alternate selves, that we all share the same soul, and are all part of a single intelligence?”
“Ding Ding Ding! The lady hits the bullseye! She wins the big prize!”, Stone announced.
“Then what is all this nonsense about being temporal police, and arresting me for messing with the time streams across dimensions? They’re not real!”
“On the contrary, they are the definition of reality. If group of souls create a reality to live in, it is their reality, and no one has the right to interfere in it. Even their alternate physical manifestations from other dimensions have no rights there, unless specifically invited. The rules are made to keep order and peace – you know that, that’s your job – and since the rules are created by those who reside in that realm, they need to be preserved and followed.”
“My head is spinning. I don’t know what to believe anymore. I don’t know what to think. I am beginning to doubt my sanity, but at the same time, I do understand the basic concepts that you are kicking around.”
“It really does take some time to acclimate to all of this”, chimed Feuer, “You’re a small fish that we grabbed out of a puddle, walked by the lake, and then tossed in the ocean.”
“But why me? Why couldn’t you just leave me stranded in one of those other dimensions that had no portal, so I couldn’t do any more real damage? I would dumb and happy living in my little ignorance, taking care of my little corner of the world. But now, you’ve taken that all away. I no longer feel secure, and I don’t even know what to think about my family and friends. You showed me the truth – and it’s worse than any lie that I could imagine.”
“We had to do it”, Stone announced. “It was the only way.”
“The only way to do WHAT?”, Byte demanded.
“To make sure that you are mentally and physically ready to join us. I think you are – what’s your vote, Feuer?”
“Yeah, she’s ready. Let’s head back to the office and get the paperwork started”
“Office? Paperwork? What are they talking about? “, thought Byte.
A moment later, a portal opened up in front of the three of them, and Byte was escorted through, one soldier at each shoulder. When the portal disappeared, so did the grass and sky…
Corporal Geist sat at her workstation, monitoring all of the floating 3D-vid images from her security station. Not much going on today – only a few visitors and a minor maintenance issue with a secondary cooling line. Her optic enhancements allowed her to directly interface with quantum G i-Net, giving her access to any relevant piece of information she needed at the speed of a single thought.
She looked up at the info wall to watch some news about the protests on Phobos and Deimos. It seems that these Martian moon colonies were running low on supplies and energy converters, and they couldn’t come to an amicable trade agreement with the natives on the planet’s surface. Who would have known that when the United States had sent deep-bore probes to Mars hundreds of years ago that it would trigger an invasion alarm? The native life, which had been living happily hundreds of meters underground, eventually dug out to the surface and demanded to know who was stomping around in their front yard. It took the better part of six years (and a few dozen dead interpreters) before we mastered translating their language. They were much more intelligent than us, and pretty much just pitied our existence.
Finding life on Mars ultimately triggered the 4th World War. No one had ever thought there’d be a 4th world war, since the 3rd World War of 2235 eliminated every major city on the globe with enhanced neutrino bombs, cutting the world population in half. But 233 years later, in 2469, after the Martian race made themselves known, the conglomerate world powers fought over who would make first contact and get the business rights. This war was dirty, with nothing less than complete obliteration to the losers. Over 4.6 billion people died in that war here on Earth, leaving a scant 4 billion remaining. But the colonies on the Moon and Mars held another 1.5 million, and they were spared the slaughter.
It was discovered that the Martian race had developed the technology to create portals in space and time. They used it carefully, but eventually, that technology was stolen from them. It was first developed as a weapon here on Earth, but later, as the parts became easier to make, the Portal generators could be found hidden in any major university or research center.
The Portals made a wonderful tool for those bent on taking anything they wanted, and even used to go back and forth across time to change world events. But the time-line rapidly became unstable as paradoxes were generated by all of this unrestricted time travel. In 2650, Aperture Science, the world’s largest conglomerate research company, created the Elite Temporal Guard. Their function was to preserve the space-time continuum, either by preventing a time breach, or by going through time to undo them. In 2651 the Temporal Prime Directive was drafted, and all non-registered Portals were to be destroyed. Many children – and grandchildren - of the Ancient Order of the Elite Guard joined the ETG – it was much more interesting than just protecting the citizens of NewWorld (previously NewGrounds) from minor hoods and thugs.
Absentmindedly, Corporal Geist scratched at the neuro-link embedded in her skull just behind her right ear. It was only 4mm in diameter, and completely covered by skin. It was implanted the day she left the incubator and began her year-1 accelerated information absorption regimen. Her pre-natal genetic profile had determined that she would be a perfect candidate for ETG training. Twenty years later, here she was, exactly as planned. It was nice growing up and not wondering if you’d ever find a job you’d like.
To the left of the security monitoring station was the main transfer chamber. This was where all of the Temporal Portals were to be opened. Every jump and return was registered, and after that, long-term temporal fluctuations were checked to make sure nothing changed that wasn’t supposed to change.
A portal opened in the main chamber, and a moment later, two ETG soldiers walked out, escorting a female soldier in green camo. Corporal Geist waited for the Portal to close completely before releasing the security force fields around the room.
Byte looked around at the subtle but elegant room she just stepped into. The air was comfortable, with a slight hint of spring rainstorm. She saw Corporal Geist at her workstation, and watched as few others walked around between various rooms. They all wore similar outfits, each with the ETG logo. No one carried any visible side arms.
She noticed that there were no phones, no paging systems and no windows. But 3-dimensional images could be displayed just about anywhere, and they were all fully interactive. There were no obvious computer terminals or any other electronic devices, yet everything and everyone was connected in ways Byte couldn’t really understand.
A wall in the chamber faded open into an archway, and Byte was gently asked to proceed through it. Stone and Feuer closely followed. After a short walk through a hallway, they came to another chamber. As they entered, Byte could see that this room was configured more like a lounge or living room. There were geometric couches and recliners all circled around a larger conversation area. On the walls were 3D renderings of open windows looking out over a beach at sunset. 3D Seagulls flew sedately from window to window, and the gentle sounds of the surf were barely audible as background noise.
Byte’s looked at the couch and saw three people sitting down – two men and a woman. The man in the center had his head down as he was leaning over to sign some papers. The other two people were wearing ETG uniforms and standing up to greet Byte and the other soldiers as they entered the room.
The man spoke first: “Welcome to ETG central, Supreme Commander ByteSlinger!”, and he saluted. Byte saluted smartly in return, as did the two soldiers flanking her. “I am Supreme Commander Roan, and this is my Temporal Analysis officer, Commander Lassuk”
“Please to meet you both”, replied Byte, shaking hands firmly with both of them.
“And I do believe you already know our other guest”, Roan said, gesturing to the man hunched over some paperwork.
Byte glanced down, and her heart skipped a few beats as she recognized the face.
“Hi, Byte!”, said EagleRock. “Sit down and get comfortable – we have a long debriefing ahead of us!”
End of Chapter 21