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Through a Mirror Darkly - Chapter by Chapter

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Master of the Portal
Master of the Portal

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Post Thu Jun 17, 2010 10:41 pm

Through a Mirror Darkly - Chapter by Chapter

This is EagleRock re-creating Byte's story on the new forums. I've included some handy links below regarding her story:

For comments on the story, Click Here
For the original story thread, Click Here
For the original comments thread, Click Here

Without further ado, here's Byte's story, word-for word:

This is where I'll put all of the chapters for the storyline. I'll keep it locked here - please put your comments on the other thread, ok? Thanks!


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Master of the Portal
Master of the Portal

Posts: 687

Joined: Thu Jun 17, 2010 9:40 am

Location: East Coast of the USA

Post Thu Jun 17, 2010 10:42 pm

Re: Through a Mirror Darkly - Chapter by Chapter

“Through a Mirror Darkly”


Originally posted on September 14th, 2009

The sun had just risen, and already the hot desert air hung over her face like a shroud. That’s what woke her up; that and the throbbing in her head that was either from too much tequila or a very bad beat-down. Maybe both. Byteslinger opened her right eye slowly, shielding it with her hand from the fireball that had taken great delight in scorching this corner of Hell. Then her left eye next. “Hunnhhh?”, she mumbled out loud to no one there. “Something’s not right…”

She sat up slowly, and held her head, hoping that it wouldn’t explode before she figured out what was going on. After a minute, her vision came into focus, and that’s when she realized the first thing that was quite unmistakably wrong: Her visor was gone. The visor that contained the implant for her previously missing left eye was no where to be seen. That’s happened before in battle – the visor would get jarred off by a concussion wave or in a good fight, and then later, she’d find it, scuffed and abused, and pop it back on until she had it repaired back at camp. So, missing the visor wasn’t the problem. The problem was here left eye. It shouldn’t be there, at all.


Thinking back, she remembered a time not too long ago when she had vision in both her eyes. She was an up-and-coming private, more of a computer geek than anything else. She never planned on going into battle, but two years after signing on, the Portal Wars began – and no one was exempt from the front line. She had heard the names of the brave leaders who fought on the line every day, such as EagleRock and SlashFirestorm. Their legends preceded them, and now, she would be supporting them in the battle to keep Newgrounds safe and secure. When they handed her a rifle, it was almost a joke – “I’ll never use this”, she remembered thinking. “I’ll be in a concrete bunker, keeping the systems up and making sure we don’t lose communications to the platoons”.

For the first few days, it was exactly that. Safe and secure behind tons of concrete, Byte kept the communication systems up and running without fail. She also captured and decoded encrypted messages from the enemy, and monitored all movement and troop locations. The war raged outside the bunker, but it wasn’t really her war – not yet, anyway.

On day 6, a report came in that a med-evac chopper on the way back from the last firefight was shot down a mile from the bunker. There were survivors, and it was rumored that Slash was one of them. With manpower already stretched thin, all “non-essential” personal in the bunker were gathered into a search and rescue team. And it seemed that computer geeks were suddenly non-essential in this war.

Byte was one of the six in the rescue brigade. Out of the other five, the only names she could remember were Private Lizzardis and Private SlntCobra. It didn’t really matter who the other three were. They never saw the sun set that day. But all 6 took off in an armored truck, armed with rifles, medkits, and toilet paper. Not sure if they’d need either of the first two, it was guaranteed that the latter would be needed by everyone by the time they got back to the bunker.

The sky throbbed with explosions; the thick, black clouds blocked the noon sun. In another age, this would have been quite a beautiful desert scene, with the painted mountains in the background, and clear, blue sky as far as you could see. But now, it was Hell on earth, and in the middle of it all, in a truck with bad suspension and no air conditioning, Byte and her five compatriots rattled through the debris, dodging mines and crossfire.

The first miracle of the day finally happened – they found the downed chopper, and all four aboard were alive. Some were beat up and bleeding, and Slash had a broken wrist, but considering the circumstances, it was a miracle. They loaded the survivors in the back of the truck; SlntCobra drove, Byte was sitting shotgun, monitoring navigation and keeping an eye out for mines and IEDs; Lizz was in the back, working as medical support and trying to keep the survivors alive until they made it back to base camp.

The ride was rougher on the way back; based on the attack patterns, the enemy was now actively changing their primary targets from the fighting forces on the front to the support bunkers and camps behind them. It was an obvious ploy to attempt to knock out the command structure and communications. It was also the exact spot where the truck was headed…

“Byte, how far are we from the bunker?”, SlntCobra yelled over the explosions.

“About 300 yards – almost there….”, Byte answered, but was cut off by the sudden nosedive that rocked the truck forward, and then into a complete and sudden bone-jarring stop.

“What the Hell was that?!?!?!”,SlntCobra screamed. But Byte had a front row seat, and had to laugh.

“You know, with all this God-damn equipment we have on this truck to detect mines and enemy movement, do you think they could have put in a hole detector?”, she answered. Whenever she was nervous, she was more of a smart-ass than usual. This was one of those times.

“A hole?!?!?! What do you mean, a hole?”, SlntCobra screamed. His face was red, and he was more confused than angry.

“Yup. Someone dug a big hole in this part of the road, covered it in cardboard and thin wood, and put a layer of sand and road gravel over it. A completely passive trap…”, but before Byte could finish, SlntCobra yelled “It’s a trap! Snipers at 3 o’clock! Suddenly, the right side of the truck was echoing with the sounds of rapid-fire bullets bouncing off the armor plating.

“We’re dead if we stay put - our only chance is to run for it.”, SlntCobra yelled through gritted teeth.

Byte thought for a second, and in that second realized that if she was going to die, it wouldn’t be sitting down or running. “You go out, grab Slash and the rest of the crew, and head to the bunker. I’ll lay down cover fire from here, and you guys come back with a tank to get me, ok?”

“That’s suicide. We all have to go, and we have to go now.”, SlntCobra argued. “No man left behind!”

“Hey, I know that, and I know you’ll come back to get me – and besides, I’m not a man!”. More humor from Byte. But no one laughed.

SlntCobra looked at her, and realized that she was right – someone had to lay down cover fire, and someone else had to lead the squad back. And they were running out of time.

“Okay, that’s the plan – stay here and shoot everything you got – I promise, we’ll be back for you!”, and those were the last words she heard from him that day. SlntCobra ran around back, looked at Lizz and the others and said, “We’ll split up into three teams of three, and run separate serpentine patterns back to the bunker. Three smaller targets are harder to hit than one big one.”

Lizz and SlntCobra grabbed Slash; the remaining six broke up into two teams, and with the sound of Byte’s chain gun screaming the banshee song of death, they all took off like rabbits.

Time seemed to stand still. Byte couldn’t hear anything except the rapid-fire staccato of shells blasting away at the enemy. SlntCobra and the rest were running, but each step felt like it took an eternity.

But that moment of eternity was shattered by an explosion that ripped the truck apart, and sent hot shrapnel spraying in all directions. SlntCobra, Lizz and Slash looked back, and stared in disbelief at the carnage behind them. The other two teams never had a chance – all that was left of them were some smoldering boots and dark red splotches of various dismembered body parts.

The truck cab lay on its left side; the rest of the truck was tangled scrap metal. A few yards away was the chain gun, still smoking – and underneath it was Byte’s body.

The firefight still raged, and figuring that everyone else was now a casualty of war, they scrambled back to the bunker. But just before the three reached safety, Slash turned around again, and couldn’t believe what he saw.

“Oh, shit, she’s still alive! Byte is still alive!” They all turned to look, and saw a bloody figure trying to stand up while leaning on the battered chain gun. The left side of her body was torn open; her left arm hung useless at the shoulder, and the left side of her face was bloody, her eye and cheek ruined by the blast. She turned toward them, and gave a weak wave with her right arm – and then fell down like a rag doll.

“I still remember that day. I thought I was dead. I felt nothing, and knew that half of me was gone. I had hoped that death would be quick, and when I saw those guys had made it, at least I knew I wouldn’t have died for no good reason. I closed my eyes, and the darkness came; and in the darkness, as I drifted out of this world and into the next, I heard voices. Many voices. But they weren’t talking – they were all yelling, barking orders. I figured they were hallucinations brought on by my mind dying. They would quiet down soon enough. And eventually, they did.”

“But I didn’t die. What I heard was a rescue team that made it back out from the bunker and dragged me back in. From there, after stabilizing me, they transported me to the hospital. I was dying, and they had to start stitching me back up. My left eye was gone, my left cheek shattered in five places; my left arm was amputated at the shoulder, and I had several broken ribs. They removed my spleen and part of a lung, and patched me up as best as they could. And I lay in a coma for two weeks while decisions were being made about what to do with me.”

When they brought me out of my coma, I had no idea what day it was, or where I was. But I remembered who I was, and what happened. I looked out of my good eye, and quietly inspected my body – or what was left of it. Just then, SlashFirestorm walks in with two doctors and someone in a very expensive suit, but before he could say a word, I ask

“Who else made it back?”.

He looked away for a moment, and when his gaze met mine again, his face was dark and sad. “Besides me, just Lizz and SlntCobra – and you. The rest were killed by the rocket strike.”

“Sorry to have failed you, sir. I had hoped everyone would have made it back.”, I murmured. “Such a waste. Such a loss.”

“No, Corporal. You didn’t fail us. If it wasn’t for you, none of us would be here.”, he replied.

“Excuse me, sir, but I’m a Private.”, I said quietly, not wanting to anger him by correcting his mistake.

“No excuses for you, soldier! You were given a field promotion for your valiant efforts and deeds”, he said, proudly.

“That’s nice – but it looks like I won’t be doing any more fighting. “, and I motioned to my left side.

“Funny you should bring that up. This is Dr. Culpepper and Dr. Farragut , and this well-dress gentleman is only known by the name ‘Tim’. They have a proposition for you…”

I looked at them for a moment, and then said “Oh, go ahead, make your pitch. I’m not going anywhere for a while.”

‘Tim’ looked at me and started his monologue, quietly, as if talking to someone in a library: “My Company has contracted with the government to design and develop advanced prosthetic devices for the military. Initially, it was our plan to create external and internal assistive devices that would attach to existing limbs and other body parts; these devices would be connected via a patented neural interface to the nervous system of the host, and over time, with some retraining, these parts would function as part of the host just as easily as an arm or a leg functions naturally.

But we discovered that the human body couldn’t handle the neurological signals for extra parts on a limb. It couldn’t always direct the signal between the natural limb and the prosthetic enhancement. However, if we removed the limb and use a complete replacement, the brain adopted the replacement quite normally, and we were very successful.”

Now, I was a bit groggy, but I could draw a line from “A” to “B” and see where this was going. “So, you came here today to ask me to be a human test subject, right?”, I said, a little annoyed.

“Test subject?”, answered Tim,” Oh, no, not a test subject. We’ve had plenty of those. Most of them are quite happy with the results, thank you. We don’t need another test subject – we need our first soldier to bring our technology to the battlefield. Quite frankly, you’re the perfect candidate – and you will be handsomely rewarded.”

“Do tell. What’s the catch?”, I asked, more annoyed than before.

“We want to implant a new left arm and a new left eye on you, as well as an embedded microcontroller CPU that you – and only you – will be able to program. We will give you all the time and therapy you need to adjust to your implants. We will also set up a bank account for you that starts with an initial balance of $200,000, and every year, on this date, another $100,000 to be added. We will also buy you a house anywhere you want in the US, where you will live for free until you die. In return, we ask that once the therapy has concluded and you’re fit for duty, you sign back on for a minimum of five more years of service”.

I sat quietly for a moment, and realized that I can’t turn down this offer. But wasn’t sweet enough.
“One million up front, half a mil every year, guaranteed minimum of 20 years live or dead – and only 4 years service. Not negotiable”. I stopped there, closed my eyes and smiled a little.

A second later, I hear Tim say one word: “Done”.

The months that followed were chaotic and painful. The implants hurt for a while until my body accepted them. I could actually program the CPU in my sinus cavity to fine tune the cybernetic vision and the sensations in my new arm. That new arm was quite a feat of technology – it weighed about the same as what my natural arm did; it ran on micro-sized mini reactor power cells that would run 40 or 50 years at maximum usage; and it did have 4 fingers and an opposable thumb. It also had a built in cutting laser (for small jobs like locks and doors), interface connections for most computer peripherals, and the tips of the fingers – besides being very sensitive to vibration and heat – could be retracted to expose various tools, like power screwdriver bits, drills, and an adjustable wrench. My eye could see in all spectrums, including night vision, x-ray and thermal. It could also zoom in to about 32X .That was hard to get used to, but once I did, it was great.

I felt like a cross between the Bionic woman and Inspector Gadget; but ‘Tim’ repeatedly reminded me that “even though the arm and eye are cybernetic, the rest of me is still quite human and quite vulnerable, so don’t get too cocky”.

I opted not to get the human-skin covering for the arm. I figured long-sleeved clothes and a glove would be enough when I was in public, and in the Barracks, who cared?

It was a full year, almost to the day, after the explosion that I was declared fit for duty, and re-enlisted for four years.

But ‘Tim’ was a sneaky bastard, and had the last laugh – in the contract I signed, that money in the bank and the annuity that followed would start the day I retired from the Barracks, and it had to be honorably, no less than four years. Also, for me to get that money, they would have to remove ALL of my implants and replace them with “regular” prosthetics.

So, now I’m back in the ranks, fighting the good fight, with parts made in Japan. Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto….

Or so it should be. Byte looked down at her left arm, and felt it. It was quite human, very muscular and well defined. She reached up to her face, and felt skin where there should have been Kevlar. She looked around, and yes, this was the same desert she almost died in years ago – but it looked a little different somehow. Like when you play the “what’s different in these two pictures?” game – where, at a quick glance, both pictures look the same, but under a little scrutiny, you see the differences.

Just then, the urge to piss came on strong, and in the absence of a latrine, she got up, found a bush next to rock, and dropped her pants and squatted…

..and then promptly pissed on her boots as the pee shot from the end of her penis.

“I have a dick? Oh, hell, no!!!!!!”, she screamed…

- End of Prologue-


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Master of the Portal
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Post Thu Jun 17, 2010 10:42 pm

Re: Through a Mirror Darkly - Chapter by Chapter

“Through a Mirror Darkly”

Chapter 1:
Well, that’s something you don’t see every day

Originally posted on September 14th, 2009

Byte stared in disbelief. Who did this to her? When? Why? Her head hurt even more, but the anger she felt at her disfigurement helped clear the fog from her head. She stood up, not caring that she was half naked, and looked again at her body. And then poked around a little bit. Penis – yes. Vag – nope. No trace of that at all. Now that made things worse. This may be more than surgery…

Not caring about anything else, she pulled off her body armor and threw it to the ground, scaring a lizard into the rocks below. Looking down, she realized that instead of the all-natural 38D’s she was so fond of flaunting, there were masculine pectoral muscles and washboard abs.

“This can’t be right. I must be dreaming or drugged”, but her thoughts were very lucid. Digging through her backpack, she found a signal mirror, and looked at her face. Her hazel eyes stared back at her – both of them. But her nose was wider. The scar on her right cheek – the one she got as a child while taunting a parrot – was still there. Her lips weren’t as full as she remembered.

Then she saw the 5-oclock shadow on her face. She reached up to feel her hair; last time she remembered, it was a dark auburn red, hanging well past her shoulders, and usually up in a ponytail while on patrol. But what she felt was a government-issued crew cut. Looking in the mirror, the only thing that was familiar was the color.

This was not the body she remembered. This wasn’t even a female body – it is, as far as she could see, a completely healthy male specimen – and, with the added bonus of being well-endowed. But in a way, it was hers. The eyes, the hair, the scars – they were all the same.

“Did I go insane?”, Byte thought. “Am I really a guy who thinks he was a woman, or did I have some schizophrenic split under duress? And how the hell am I supposed to find out what – or who – I am?”

Staring blankly at the desert, Byte got redressed, wiped the piss off her(his?) size 12 boots, and sat down on a rock. From her trusty backpack, she pulled out a canteen of water and some travel rations.

The cold water felt good in her throat, and the pleasant shock of coolness helped her focus her thoughts.

“The water is cold”, she suddenly realized,” so I couldn’t have been out here for too long. This is a standard canteen – it wasn’t really insulated, and even cold water like this gets warm in a few hours.”

She let her mind drift as she picked at the rations. “I don’t seem very hungry – I must have eaten recently, or maybe I’m so confused, I just don’t feel like eating.” But that wasn’t the case. Her stomach wasn’t giving her hunger pangs.

A glance at her chronometer told her it was 14:35 on 14-September-2009. “Yes, that’s the date I remember it to be. I was on a search and rescue mission with Commander idiot-buster, Sergeant SlntCobra, Master Sergent Lizzardis and Privates Porkchop and Michelinman. We left at 08:00 this morning – our primary objective: find out where Wade was keeping all of the senior officers captive, and rescue them from the wargames they were playing against the Mods. But the stakes were high – winners get to live to fight another day, and the losers get to die.”

Then the events that lead up to this rescue came back to her, as if to tell her she wasn’t crazy, and to hang on to what truth she knew:

It was a few months ago: after some heated altercations with the Duck Division that ended with some of the Mod accounts being hacked and many users being hurt by collateral damage, that two things started to happen. The first was that the portal activity slowed down to a record crawl. Even Clock Day was only half as busy as expected. The other was that Wade Fulp, the head honcho of the Newgrounds world, started to act peculiar. Normally very attentive to the reports of spam and abuse from the EGB, he first ignored them, and then later, started to rebuke them. We had all figured he was fighting with April, but after a few clandestine calls to his bride, found out he was being a prick at home as well, and she was planning to leave him and go live with her mother. Two very odd things – and what was even worse – they were somehow connected. But we didn’t know that then.

Then a few weeks ago, Wade requests a meeting of all of the senior officers and staff from the EGB. They were to meet offsite at the old target range just a few miles north of the barracks. It was a secluded place, someplace neutral and far enough away so that if they had a screaming match, no one would hear it. SlashFirestorm, EagleRock, Coop83 and the other senior members jumped in the transports, and headed out. EagleRock had brought along a high-powered communication unit that I had modified especially for him. It used rechargeable battery piles, and the entire case was covered in photo-voltaic cells. It had the ability to transmit and receive short wave, AM, FM, wireless 3G, wireless LAN and even satellite (if you had a clear sky above you). It was a full-function PDA with 4GB of RAM, a Terabyte of solid-state disk drives, and a fold out, flexible keyboard and laminate LCD screen. With the screen and keyboard folded and rolled away, it wasn’t much bigger than a deck of cards. And, as a final touch, it had a built-in GPS and homing locator, and after 12 hours of inactivity, would assume that the user was disabled and begin transmitting the homing/rescue sequence. A nice toy – and later, it would be the only link we’d have to ever hope to find them.

EagleRock reported in at 09:30 – they were all at the meeting place, and Wade’s motorcade just arrived. He would report back in when the meeting was over, and let us know what happened. The rest of the morning was uneventful. With the portal so quiet, the Barracks reverted to something a little better than a clubhouse, with dirty jokes, sexual innuendos, attacks on the inferiority of the male members (and their little members) and, of course, the threats of unleashing the midgets and Brunhilda on all of the unsuspecting new recruits. Yes, I have to admit, I may have started some of that trouble, but we had to do something to break the monotony.

12:00 came and went. We all sat around the mess hall, a little concerned. EagleRock hadn’t checked back in yet, and that was just not like him. But we figured he had his reasons, so we let it go. 18:00 rolled around, and the boys hadn’t come home for dinner yet. We were getting worried, but since this was a meeting with the brass and not the enemy, there really wasn’t any protocol to follow – except to wait.

It was around 23:00, and I was ready to call it a night when the remote communications computer sprang to life, triggering the emergency alarm system. It was from EagleRocks’ PDA - no activity in 12 hours! So, either he dropped it somewhere, or it’s sitting in the back of the truck – or, there could be a problem.

Slntcobra, Lizzardis and idiot-buster were the first to come running to the communications room. “What in the name of all that’s unholy is that racket?”, idiot-buster complained. He had just fallen off to sleep, dreaming about the twin Norwegian blond flight attendants that were so beautiful, they made you cry just to look at them. Now, he was rudely awakened, and very cranky.

“It’s from EagleRocks’ PDA – the failsafe alarm went off. Something isn’t right. Let me check the telemetry, and get a fix on their location.”

“Do you mean the senior staff, or the PDA?”, asked SlntCobra. “The PDA.”, I answered, and fidgeted with the computer tracking systems as I spoke. “I can only hope the guys are near it”.

Ding! “The system located the PDA, and made electronic contact with it!”, I announced with some optimism. “Let’s see where they are now…”. The numbers came up on the console, and were verified by triple-redundant systems. They were recalculated five times, and each time they came up with the same information – and each time, it made no sense.

“Well, according to this, they are at 38° 15' North, 117° 22' West – and 150 feet below sea level!”, I said – but I knew something was wrong.

“Sounds like they’re in Death Valley”, piped in Lizzardis.

“Nice try – but those coordinates are in Nevada – under a mountain!”, and I brought up the 3D terrain map to show them.

”Why does that place look familiar?”, asked idiot-buster.

“Oh, wait, I do know this – wasn’t that the old, original site of Aperture Science – you know, the company that created the Portal gun?”,Lizzardis added quite happily.

I punched in the query to the system, and pulled up all of the old Aperture Science information. Sure enough, it was the location of their first lab site. But the computer system GlaDOS went the way of the HAL 9000, and people started to die. There was talk of variations on the portal gun being developed at that site, but it was closed down in 2005, primarily for lack of funding. No one wanted to invest in a company that couldn’t control their own computer. A year later, a bigger – and much more secretive – lab was opened somewhere in the UK. No one knows exactly what they’re working on now, but it was discovered that there were a lot of military ties to the corporation.

Then the computer burped out a factoid that sent chills down our spines: The majority of the investors in the new Aperture Technology Labs had strong affiliations with the Duck Division and white supremacy groups. We weren’t sure what they were doing – but we knew we weren’t going to like it.

“Can we send a message to EagleRock?”, asked Porkchop, who had just joined us a few minutes ago. “Maybe if the PDA makes enough noise, someone will pick it up?”

“Yes, I think I can do that.”, I said with a smile. I started the communication protocol sequence to the PDA – it should have been almost instantaneous. But instead, the signal was fluctuating weirdly. I looked at the data packets, and noticed that the time stamps between the PDA and our system kept falling in and out of synch. I’ve seen this happen when a signal is bounced over a few satellites, and there’s lag in the packet streams. But this was connecting via the Wireless G – and the signal strength was well over 70%. More than enough to keep it going.

“Well, if the signal is strong, but it’s still fluctuating, that means something is interfering with it.”, offered michelinman – a newly recruited private with a level head on his shoulders.

Finally, the systems synchronized enough for me to send the wake-up alarm. “Here goes…”, and I pushed the TRANSMIT key. A loud static burst sent feedback through the speakers at our end – and at the other side, the PDA should be playing various guitar riffs from Van Halen at maximum volume, and blinking like a disco light on crack.

The static stopped, and all was quiet. We stared at each other for what felt like hours, but was only a minute or so. And just before I could say something smart-assed, we heard EagleRock’s voice over the speakers:

“Oh…so that’s how you turn this bloody thing on! Next time, ByteSlinger, an instruction manual would be nice! We are currently in a private training facility at Wade’s ranch. We’ll be getting some shut-eye, because our training will begin at 08:00 sharp.”

“So, you’re all okay?”, I asked

“Say again – did not copy – repeat, did not copy!”, Eaglerock sounded a little anxious now.

“Are you okay?, this is Supreme Commander ByteSlinger – are you in need of any assistance?”

“Still only static. I hope you can hear me better than I can hear you”, mused Eaglerock. “I’ll post and send my blogs as we progress in training. Get some shuteye, mister. And look for my update in the morning! EagleRock over and out.”

“Well, it sounds like they are alive and well and going to take a vacation real soon”, I offered with a grin. “But now that we know they are generally ok, lets get some shut-eye, and pick this up at morning mess.”

We all ambled back to our bunks, chattering about what just happened. Something so simple as a meeting had started to become a bit more puzzling. What I couldn’t figure out is why the PDA was now 150 feet underground and acting so strange. Eventually, exhaustion set in, and I fell asleep.

I usually wake up to the sounds of a very annoying alarm clock that I take great pleasure in beating on until it’s quiet. This morning, however, my alarm clock had a rank and hovered over my bed, shaking my arm and repeating my name over and over again…

“Byte, Byte, you gotta get up! We just got the first transmission from EagleRock – and they’re in deep shit!”, Lizzardis was wide eyed, almost panicky.

“Look, this better be good – I’m tired as hell and..”, but before I could finish my morning whine, idiot-buster came charging in and joined the wake-up party.

“Good, you’re up! We have a serious situation here – and if you think things were weird before, well, it’s not going to get any better today”. His face was flush with excitement – but he looked very worried.

“Alright, let me toss on some fatigues and I’ll meet you down at the comm. room in two minutes”…

By the time I made it to the comm. room, it was standing-room only. “Okay, break it up. Let me see what the hell is so important!”. I punched up the file sent by EagleRock, and as I read it, my blood ran cold:

Start transmission – 07:45 14-Sept-2009
From: SC EagleRock
Priority: Urgent

“To all command officers at the EGB: Please be advised that you are now under emergency condition Hydra. Consider all command personnel, including myself, that had attended Wade’s meeting to be incapacitated – and irretrievable.”

SlntCobra interjected at this point: “Hydra? That’s only used if the upper command structure is lost or compromised – all remaining commands are given field promotions, and all job functions are reassigned based on rank and ability. Why would EagleRock signal Hydra?”

“I’m not sure.”, I said quietly, and continued reading. “This meeting was a trap. Wade himself engineered it. It started out fairly normally, but we became suspicious when we were told to follow his motorcade to the mountain base. When we arrived, we saw a man-made entrance into the side of the mountain. It was a large tunnel, about 30 feet wide by 20 feet high. It was completely black until Wade signaled someone to turn on the overhead lights. We followed him in, and drove downward at a slight pitch for about 800 feet. There, the tunnel opened up into a large chamber, easily 200 feet by 200 feet, with 30 foot ceilings. This was a natural cave, and it was well lit.”

Now idiot-buster interrupted. “Tunnel to a cave? We weren’t aware of this – it’s not on our maps – what the hell is he talking about?”. And sure enough, our 3D topographic database had no record of any of this. But there was still more to read:

“When we all entered the cave, Wade made the announcement that the training session wasn’t going to be held here – that we were going off-site. And he had a quick way to take us there. After his announcement, a strange humming filled the air, and a computer console on the back wall powered up. Then a Portal formed on the back wall. It looked similar to the Portals generated by the Aperture Science weapon – but this one was a semicircle, with a 20 foot radius! Usually you can see clearly through the Portal to the other side, but this one was murky and shifting, as if the connection to the other side wasn’t stable.”

Krev jumped in after hearing this. “A portal with a 20 foot radius? Do you know how much power that takes? Why the hell would you need one that big? There must have been some need to build it – it wasn’t cheap or easy to do”

The message continued: “Once the portal opened, a large steel door closed down behind us, blocking the tunnel exit. Then Wade’s guards stood up, aimed their rifles at us, and he told us to drop our weapons and stand down. We were surrounded and outnumbered – and at a loss for words. Then his guards herded us like cows to the slaughter, and with Wade in the lead, he turned to his guards and said ‘Either follow me – or get shot where you stand’, and he walked into the Portal and disappeared. I looked at Slash and Coop, and we all realized wordlessly that we really didn’t have much of a choice.”

“That bastard!”, Porkchop added. “What’s the deal with Wade? Is he crazy? That’s kidnapping!”

“We all walked through the Portal, but the other side wasn’t instantaneous, as with a standard Portal. There was a feeling of disorientation, weightlessness and even deja-vu. A very uncomfortable trip, which ended with us falling to the floor of a large holding cell. The portal opening was 20 feet above us now, and the only other exit looks like a blast door to a hanger. Then we heard over the loudspeakers Wade’s voice once again ‘Welcome to my version of the Thunder Dome. You will recognize the layout as a recreation of all the maps from CounterStrike. Yes, all the maps, all the traps, and all the weapons. There will be two teams – the EGB and the Forum Moderators. And there will be ongoing skirmishes of 2 on 2 or 3 on 2 or whatever I feel like until one team is the clear winner – and the other team killed off completely. Outside of this room you will find your base, bunks, barracks and mess – your home away from home until you win – or die. Better get some chow and some shut-eye, soldiers – the fun begins at 07:00 tomorrow! That is all’. And with that, the blast door opens, and we are led to our bunks. I am writing this now and sending it as fast as I can – if they close the blast doors or the portal shuts down, I don’t know if we’ll still be able to communicate. I also don’t want to risk having this PDA confiscated – have to hide it well. They’re coming to get us now – will send next transmission when possible. EagleRock over and out…”

We all stared at the screen, reading the message over and over again. Finally, Lizzardis broke the silence “This is all so unbelievable! It’s almost like a bad sub-plot from a 2nd-rate fan fic! You just can’t make this shit up!”

Then SlntCobra added, ”Byte, by my reckoning, under condition Hydra this makes you the senior officer in charge now. What are your orders, commander?”

For one rare time in my life, I was speechless. In charge? I never signed on for this. Hell, I couldn’t save my own ass from getting killed – how am I supposed to lead these men (and some of them just barely that)? But there was only one thing to do…

“Soldiers, I’m looking for 5 volunteers. We’re going on a search and rescue mission. We have to get the command staff back, and we need to stop Wade from becoming a complete asshole.”

“But EagleRock said this was condition Hydra – they are classified lost and irretrievable – we can’t go after them!”, protested Michelinman. “Orders are orders!”

I looked at him, and the room went silent. In a low growl, I replied: “First off, soldier, I’m in charge now, so it’s up to me to make that call. And second, have you ever known me to follow orders to the letter? But, thirdly, these people are more than just soldiers – they are our friends. And I know that they would do the same for us. So, maggots, get off your asses, and I expect five of you to be mustered in the transport bay within 30 minutes, with everything you can think of that we can use to get these guys home in one piece. DISMISSED!”

The room emptied quickly, except for Krev who stayed behind. She stood wordlessly as I jacked my cyber-arm into the console and downloaded all of the information I could on the geography of the area, the full history of the Aperture Science projects, the map layouts to Counterstrike, the complete personnel profiles of the command staff, intel on the Duck Division, and the latest version of Guitar Hero (my arm makes a mean air-guitar!)

Krev cleared her throat with a cough, and I turned to face her.

“You’ll need someone back here to run point and keep the comm. systems up. I’d like to volunteer for that. You know that if I were up to it, I’d be with you on the mission, but I’m not cleared yet for full-field operations. They still haven’t figured out yet why I’m getting these headaches…”, and her voice trailed off.

“I think having you here on point is an excellent idea. I’ll raise your data access levels to full command, so everything you’ll need will be at your fingertips. Also, I have a comm. unit similar to the one I gave EagleRock installed in my upper arm – you should be able to track both of us with the same system. I’ll patch in visual through the eye circuits, so we all can see what I see. Are you up to this?”

“Yes. But do me a favor?”, she asked, ”Please bring back Porkchop and Lizz in one piece, ok? They’re my favorites, you know…”

“I’ll do my best. Now, I have to finish getting ready for this mission. Keep those lines open – we all want to be home for dinner!”, and with a quick salute, I headed down to the transport area.

Byte looked down at her chronometer. It was 10:45 on 14-September-2009, and all of the members of the rescue team sat in silence. Commander idiot-buster, Sergeant SlntCobra, Master Sergent Lizzardis and Privates Porkchop and Michelinman all volunteered, each with one or more specialties that would add to the success of the mission. No words needed to be spoken. The time for talking was over – it was now time for action.

At 11:15, they arrived at the tunnel entrance that shouldn’t have been there. Proceeding slowly, they could see that there were light fixtures in the ceiling – but no apparent way to turn them on. Byte used the multi-spectrum scan mode on her implant to help guide the transport, and the rest of the crew used night-vision goggles to continue on down the tunnel. By the time they reached the steel door at the end, only a small crescent of light was visible from the opening far above.

Idiot-buster jumped out of the transport, and analyzed the steel door. “This son of a bitch is at least 16 inches thick and reinforced. We’ll bring the ceiling down first if we try to blast through it – and our cutter tools won’t be strong enough”

Then SlntCobra chimed in, “Well, maybe if we just say ‘Open Sesame’!” – and then, door started to lift open!

“Voice activated?”, asked Michelinman, as everyone else just stared in awe as the door slid up into the ceiling.

“Naw, I just found the control panel and pushed the friggin green button!”, answered SlntCobra with a chuckle.

It was just like EagleRock had described it. A huge natural cavern, 200 feet wide. The interior lights were off, but a computer terminal was on and running – and the Portal was still very active.

ByteSlinger suddenly had the urge to command. “Lizz, Porkchop and Mich, sweep the area. See if you can find a light switch, and keep a close eye out for traps or deadfall – or possible hostiles. Idiot-buster, scan all communication channels – see if we have any chatter we can use. Cobra, check out that computer – see if you can pry some data out of it without shutting down the portal. I’m going to scan the Portal with my optic processor, and see what this damn thing is doing.”

She took a few steps closer to the portal, and switched the optic-implant to a cyclic full spectrum sweep. Her in-arm communicator transmitted all of the data back to the base camp, where Krev was dutifully archiving and analyzing it in real time.

“Holy shit! This thing is spitting out neutrinos, tachyons, gravitons, and other odd quantum particles we haven’t even catalogued yet! The energy signature doesn’t even come close to a standard-issue Portal gun. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear this damn thing was also out of phase with our environment”

“Um, Byte – it is.”, replied Krev over the comm. channel. “This portal is unlike any on file – and based on the particle analysis, what we are looking at is a cross-dimensional anomaly – a fold and rupture between dimensions.”

Byte remembered reading about that in EagleRock’s files. There was a theory that there were actually 10 dimensions that existed, each one being layered and folded over the next. We lived in the first three, and experienced the 4th (time) as a line – but there were also quantum alternate dimensions that coexisted simultaneously with ours. Some were almost identical – and some were wildly different. In the same theory, a being of a lower dimension could “hop” to another parallel dimension by traveling through a folded rupture between the higher dimensions. But that was all theory, all speculation, wasn’t it?

SlntCobra interrupted Byte’s thought train with an uneasy confirmation. “Byte, I managed to find some low-security files on this system. It looks like the brainiacs at Aperture Science discovered something odd during a failed Portal experiment. They started to play around with the feedback loop and cross-energy transmitters, and found out that they could not only punch a hole through our space – but to alternate space as well. It requires a shitload of power, and the first dozen or so experiments ended in dismal failure, ranging from electrical burnouts to the creation of micro black-holes that sucked in everything in a quarter-mile radius. But it was inferred that these problems were eventually overcome, and the TransDim Portal was created. The rest of the files will take some time to decrypt, but I’m certain now that this all has a lot to do with our Command Structure being kidnapped”

As Byte looked at the portal, she noticed that there was a small light in the middle of it – and as she moved, it seemed to follow her. She walked towards the shimmering, undulating surface, and as she drew closer, the light grew bigger. Almost at the portal threshold, she used her optical scanner to zoom in on the light – it was fuzzy and shifting, but it was a man! There was someone else in the Portal – at least that’s what it looked like.

“Hey, everyone! Come quick, there’s a guy at the other end of this portal! Byte swung out her left arm to point at the spot where she saw the image…

…And suddenly, there was a huge electrical discharge that disorientated her optical sensor array, and made her cyber-arm twitch out of control. Then, she was falling – falling into the Portal. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the man in the portal seemed to be rushing towards her as well. In the split second before they collided, she saw his face, his eyes – they looked so familiar – and then, at impact, everything just went dark…

Byte looked at her chronometer again. It was 14:42 on 14-September-2009. She finally remembered how she got here. The man she saw in the portal – was her, now! Then, on a hunch, she leaned back and looked straight up. There, hanging in the sky, completely unsupported, was a black, shimmering portal 20 feet in diameter…

Back at the cavern, everyone heard the discharge, and saw ByteSlinger lying on the floor in front of the portal. Her cyber-arm had shut down to protect the other circuits, and her cyber-eye was offline as well. They dragged her carefully to a table, and laid her down on it. As Lizz and Porkchop checked her breathing and other vitals, she opened her good eye, sat up slowly, looked around and then down – and in a shrill, panicked voice screamed “Who the hell are all you guys, and why do I have tits?”

- End of Chapter 1-


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Post Thu Jun 17, 2010 10:43 pm

Re: Through a Mirror Darkly - Chapter by Chapter

"Through a Mirror Darkly"

Chapter 2:

Originally posted on September 15th, 2009

Never missing an opportunity to discuss a woman’s anatomy, Porkchop answered back quickly, “Well, for as long as I’ve known you, you’ve have those bodacious ta-tas. Were you worried that you might have lost them somewhere?”

“But…no…you don’t understand…this….this is wrong…”, Byte stammered, and stared at all the crew in the room. Then her eyes met Lizz’s, and her face went white. “You! You can’t be here! You’re dead! I know you’re dead, dammit, because I killed you!”

The whole room went silent, except for the sounds of the portal still humming away in the background. SlntCobra looked at everyone else, brought his index finger to his temple, and spun it, making the “she’s as crazy as a shithouse rat“ motion just out of Byte’s field of vision.

Lizz was shocked, but very curious. “Why did you kill me, Byte? What happened?”, and he was almost afraid to hear the answer.

Before Byte answered, she looked around some more, and saw idiot-buster across the room at the computer console. She smiled a little bit, and called out to him, “Hey, IB, it’s me! Oh, what did you do to your hair? You know I like my women with long hair!! What’s going on here? Come on over and give me a hug!”

It was almost comical. All five guys in the room made the perfect “huuhhhh????” face at the same time. Idiot-buster walked slowly towards the group, and as he got closer, Byte’s smile turned to confusion, and then anger. “You…you’re not my IB!!!! You’re almost like her twin- but you’re a guy! She never had a brother, or a sister! Why do you look like her??? Dammit! What the hell is going on here?”

Lizz, now very agitated, asked again quite loudly,”Why did you kill me, Byte?”

Byte spun around, her cybernetic arm flailing without power, and her eye scanner cold and dark. But her good eye was wide with anger and hatred.

“Because you killed my wife! You killed my wife because that coward Tom wouldn’t face me down! She was too good for him, and I took her away. She wanted someone strong, and not a loser like him. But he sent you to kill her, and then me, you mercenary bastard! A two-for-one deal! You got her as she was coming home – shot her down in cold blood in the driveway…”, Byte’s voice trailed off, and she sat quietly for a moment. Then a tear formed in her eye, and she said softly,” You killed my April – and my son she was carrying inside her.”

The room got quiet again, and stayed that way for what felt like an eternity. Then Porkchop started to chuckle, then laugh really hard, ”You almost had us going there, Byte! What a story! Making believe you got all crazy from that jolt from the portal! April? Tom? And Lizz a mercenary! Wooooo!!! That’s my Byte!, that’s…”

But before Porkchop could finish, Byte had him by the throat with her right hand. His eyes bugged out as Byte squeezed tighter and tighter. “Listen here, you little cockroach! Don’t laugh at me! This ain’t no joke! That prick killed my wife and kid, and when I found out he did it, I killed him the same way I’m about to kill you!!!”

Byte never saw SlntCobra reach in the medkit, take out a hypo of heavy-duty field trank, and then jab it in the back of her neck. She spun around, then her eye fluttered, closed – and she fell in a heap back onto the table.

“Holy Shit!”, Porkchop gasped. “She was serious, wasn’t she? But that story – it can’t be true! All those accusations just make no sense!”

“That portal jolt must have fried her brain – she’s just fuckin’ nuts now!”, added SlntCobra

Then Michelinman, who had been quiet all along, dutifully said, ”She’s a casualty of war now, boys. We have to continue the mission without her. Our command staff needs to be rescued, and we’re it.”

They all knew he was right, and they wordlessly continued searching the room and the computer for clues. Lizz propped Byte’s head on a makeshift pillow on the table, and then, using field tie-downs, secured her to the table – for her own safety, as well as theirs. There were tears in his eyes as he did it. Byte had always been kind to him, a great friend, and certainly never violent. But this wasn’t the Byte he knew. Something was very wrong – and he was going to find a way to help his friend get through this.

“Krev, this is Mich, do you copy? I’m transmitting on our backup comm. unit. Over”

After a few seconds of static, a far away and tinny voice responded. ”I copy, Mich. What the hell happened? I was recording all the sensor readings from Byte’s eye and arm, then they all went off the scales – and then completely out! What’s your status? Over.”

“Krev, Byte got zapped by the portal. She was trying to show us something she said she saw in it, and when she pointed into it, her arm must have hit the event horizon on the portal field, and it shorted her out. Over”

There was a long delay before Krev responded. “Mich … is she … dead? Over.”

“No, Krev, she’s alive, but unconscious. We had to knock her out – she was hallucinating, and becoming very violent and agitated. She’s resting on a table now – and she’s been secured. Over”

Before Krev could ask another question, Idiot-buster took the mic from Michelinman, and spoke, with a slight waver, barely perceptible. “Krev, this is Idiot-buster. I’m in command of this mission now. Byte is a casualty – we’ll keep her safe and out of the fray, and get her back to base when possible. But right now, we still have to figure out where EagleRock is, and how to get to him and the rest of the command back to base. I’ve decoded more of the computer files, but what I’ve found so far are only bits and pieces of the puzzle. Mostly invoices from a mining company and an electronic research firm. When I know more, I’ll let pass it on. We are secure here for now – unless something pops out of this portal when we’re not looking. Keep these channels open 24/7, copy?”

“I copy, commander. I’m going to analyze the last 15 seconds of the multi-channel image band from Byte’s optic, and maybe figure out what hit her. I’m leaving this channel open. Krev over and out”.

Idiot-buster turned to his crew, and in his best command voice said, “Men, we’re setting up camp here until we straighten out all of the intel from this computer. We have plenty of rations, and I’m sure we can find a far corner of this cave to use as a latrine…”

SlntCobra interjected, “No need, boss. I found a shitter halfway down the north wall. Plenty of soap, paper towels and toilet paper for all of us!”, and he grinned his famous shit-eatin’ grin.

Idiot-buster scowled at SlntCobra, and continued, ”Ok, belay the order for a latrine. Seems like our crack sharpshooter found something more important than the whereabouts of EagleRock! As I was saying, I want two men guarding the portal, one man guarding the tunnel, and the other one on rest. We’ll take 6 hour shifts until we get to the bottom of this.”

“Uh, commander, what if something comes out of the portal?”, asked Lizz sheepishly.

“If it’s not wearing an EGB uniform, shoot it in the knees. If it doesn’t have knees, keep shooting until it stops moving. Understand?”

“Sir, yes, sir!”, they all called out, and took their stations. Idiot-buster returned back to the computer to uncover the truth. He thought to himself, ”Damn, I wish Byte hadn’t gone bat-shit crazy on us. She could decode these files in minutes; it’s gonna take me all freakin’ night. I sure hope she wakes up in a better mood.”

. . .

It was almost 23:30, and most of the barracks were in their bunks, out cold. Krev worked by herself in the lab; she had always been a night owl. The whole day had been unnerving, so she played some George Lewis jazz tracks to calm her down while she pored over the optic data. It was too intense – so much information in 15 seconds, no wonder why Byte’s systems overloaded.

She played back the audio track, and stopped when she heard Byte say “Hey, everyone! Come quick, there’s a guy at the other end of this portal!”. Someone on the other side of the portal? She found the timing marks on the audio stream, and synchronized the visual data to that same time period. The visual data was so intense that she couldn’t make out anything. She looked at it for a minute, and then the lightbulb finally clicked on. “Duh! I’m such a dumb-ass”, she chided herself. “This is the entire data spectrum! Let me filter out everything except the normal visual band!”. A couple of taps on the keyboard, and the picture cleared itself up, zooming into frame.

Krev’s jaw dropped. She was looking into the face of a man with hazel eyes, reddish-brown crewcut hair, and a scar on his cheek, just below his eye. The same exact scar Byte had on her face…

Byte continued to stare up at the portal hanging above her, mocking her, daring her to find a way back in. But gravity had pulled her down. “Even if I could figure out how to get twenty feet in the air, I still have to jump up into that damn thing.”

She looked around again. Other than a stray vulture or a lizard running for its life, there was no one else around. No one to ask any questions. No one to tell her why she was in this man’s body.

“Well, I have two choices. I can sit here in the desert, let the sun bake my brains until I’m completely retarded, and then die out here, stupid but happy. Or I can just take the hand I was dealt, and find my way back to the tunnel. If the crew is still there in the chamber, I’ll have a chance of maybe becoming my sweet and feminine self once again!”

But her humor was lost on the deaf cactus and the silent mountains.

She took out a compass from her pack; it was old, but it still worked. Looking up at the sun, and then looking at the mountain ranges around her, she figured out she was due west of the tunnel, somewhere along these foothills. “Probably only a few miles”, she thought. Heading east, she could feel the sun on her back as she walked. Along the way, she found an old tree branch that made a handy walking stick, and it helped her to keep balance over the occasional hardscrabble.

Just past a bend, she saw the side of the mountain where the tunnel should be. Her pace quickened, and as she approached, she could make out the keystone bricks at the top of the opening. Almost there! She stepped in front of the tunnel…

… and it was full of rubble, completely blocked!

“What the fuck?”, she cursed. “I wasn’t gone that long! Who the hell blew the cave?”.

She looked around at the entrance, and it made no sense to her at all. This deadfall was years old – it wasn’t a recent collapse. There were plants and moss growing contently in the shadowy crevices, and small rodents popped in and out like it was a giant amusement park.

Sitting down on a rock in front of the collapsed tunnel, she looked at the ground heading south east, back to the barracks. No tire tracks. No transport treads. No footprints. No sign that anyone had ever been here.

It all did look familiar, but somehow a little different. Older? Did that damn TransDim portal send her forward in time? By the looks of it, maybe 5 or 6 years. If that was the case, she would have been considered MIA – and she could just imagine the looks on their faces if she showed up now, so many years later – and in another body. They might think she was just another crazy guy from the desert; they might even throw her in the brig. But eventually, she’ll prove to them who she was, and then get back to the business of putting herself back into her body – wherever that may be.

After a set of rations and some more water, Byte set out southeast, back to the barracks. It was a good 15 mile hike, but the sun wasn’t that bad, and she was motivated to get back home. “I should be there before nightfall”, she said to herself.

The walk was uneventful. In fact, it was too quiet. She remembered that there were always hawks above, and rattlers and scorpions scurrying about. The desert rats loved to play tag in front of her, daring her to chase them.

But nothing really moved, except the occasional stale breeze from the west. Time passed quickly as she walked, and she let her mind wander, taking in all the sights. “At least the painted mountains are still pretty in the sun”, she said with a smile.

After a few hours, just before sunset, she came to the foot of the last hill that stood between her and home. “Once I get to the top, I’ll be able to see the lights from barracks and the security perimeter – I’m almost there!”

With an adrenaline rush, she double-timed her way to the top of the hill. The sun was still an hour or so from setting, so there should be plenty of light to find a way down the other side. She could almost see it now!

30 more yards…20… 10 … 5 … finally, at the top! She looked out south, down into the valley…and her heart sank.

There was no fence. There was no barracks. There was just a huge, burned out crater. All the vegetation was gone.

The barracks had been nuked, and from the looks of it, a long time ago.

“Yeah, it’s a damn shame. I miss the place, too!”, and Byte jumped, turned around into a defensive stance to face the person who just spoke to her. She thought she was all alone on this hilltop – but she was wrong.

She turned her head, and looked into the eyes of the man who just spoke.


(End of Chapter 2)


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Post Thu Jun 17, 2010 10:44 pm

Re: Through a Mirror Darkly - Chapter by Chapter

"Through a Mirror Darkly"

Chapter 3:
Dopplegangers and Ghosts

Originally posted on September 19th, 2009

Coop was the first one to wake up in his bunk. Through the high and narrow barred windows, the sun streaked in despite the filthy glass. His head pounded like a Neil Peart solo, and it wasn’t any better with his eyes closed. He slowly turned his face to the left, hoping to find the empty bottle of tequila responsible for this hangover. Instead, he saw Phantom lying on his side, clutching a ragged pillow like a long lost teddy bear. There was a puddle of drool under his chin, and he snored softly, like he didn’t have a care in the world.

Past Phantom, Coop could see two long rows of bunks, one on each side of this long, steel bunker which now served as a communal bedroom for him and two dozen of his closest friends. There was a steel door at the far end of the room, which opened outward, and had no handle or lock visible on this side. The walls were a darker, blackened steel, and oddly enough, all the edges were rounded. It looked vaguely familiar, but a lot bigger than he first thought.

Steadying himself, Coop slowly hung his feet down and sat at the edge of his cot. Neil was now double-pumping the bass in his skull, and the whole world had a red tinge. He turn gradually to look at the other length of the room, only to discover he was one cot away from the other short end. This side had an open doorway, and Coop could see porcelain fixtures and cracked blue tiles. “Guess that’s what’s gonna pass for a bathroom in this hotel, huh”, he said softly, to no one in particular.

Then the lump under the frayed horse blanket on the cot next to his voiced a complaint, “Hey, Coop, keep it down. All that yelling hurts my head”. Coop recognized the voice as Sentio’s.

“Hey, Sentio, you know where we are?”

“Mrrrrffffff”, replied Sentio, “Yeah, we’re in some crappy hotel because Slash is a cheap bastard.”

Coop looked around again. “No, this ain’t no hotel, Sent. Looks more like a prison bunk.”

“Ffffuuucccckkkkk, you’re crazy. We can’t be in the brig. I remember passing out in my bunk last night. Look, still have my boots on. They don’t toss sleeping soldiers in the brig. You need to lay off that Mexican rotgut and get more shut-eye.”

Coop stopped for a moment to try to remember where HE was last night, and figure out how did he wind up here?

Blank. No recollection. “Wow, that must have been a two-bottle night. I can’t remember jack shit”, he said to himself. He had to talk out loud, because Neil kept drowning out all of his inner thoughts with the infinite drum solo from Hell. He seemed to remember what could have been the night before, at mess. Something about an important meeting the next day, but even those details escaped him now.

His bladder reminded him that you don’t buy booze, you just rent it, so he got up like an 80 year old man, and shuffled into the bathroom. Fortunately, the urinals were just past the open doorway, so he didn’t have to wander far to do his business.

Even in the dim light, he saw that the bathroom was filthy. There were piss stains on the walls and floor, giving silent witness to all the drunkards before him that literally couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn from two feet away. The room stunk like an open cesspool in the summer sun, there was toilet paper all over the floor, and the graffiti covered more of the walls than the paint did. Out of the five bare bulbs hanging from a stained drop ceiling, two were missing and a third was busted in half. The other two probably had 60 watts between them.

Coop shrugged, ”Eh, just like the latrine at the Barracks. But this one has nicer tiles.”

He finally finished pissing, washed his hands with rusty water in a half-clogged sink, and then wiped them dry on his pants. Walking a few steps out, he decided he was going to cruise the room and take roll.

“Let’s see…Me… Sentio… Phantom… Peregrinus…Andrea364… EagleRock… Major-Punk…Dream-of-Duke (what the hell was he doing here?)… Dark… TheThing… SlashFirestorm (that makes me feel better!)… PossiblePancakes… X-Naut… RSQViper… SilentSoldier… HeavenDuff… Pepeatumi… DarkSoldier… ADT… Penguinlink… LittleWashu… Harryjarry… MetalDart… pwroftheseagoat… TurkeyBean… BlueHippo. By my count, 26…”

Then his mind started to clear, now that Neal switched over to a slow dance. “Wait.. some of these guys are old members, who left the EGB a while ago. They may be our friends, but have no business in the barracks. How did this sorry group get thrown together in this locked room? They didn’t come with…”

His thought was interrupted by the sound of the steel door being thrown open, followed by a large man with a red crewcut and a scar under his left cheek banging a steel trashcan with a baseball bat.

“Get up, you sleeping pansy bastards!,” He yelled at the top of his lungs. “ If this was a rifle, all you dumb-asses would be dead by now! But it’s just Bert, my lucky bat. You call yourself the Elite Guards? I’ve seen tougher Girl Scouts!”

Before the intruder could finish his sentence, the remaining 25 Guards jumped up out of their cots – and then half of them fell back down, too dizzy to stand. The others, very disoriented, tried very hard to shake the cobwebs from their head. EagleRock steadied himself and walked slowly towards their captor.

“That’s okay, cupcakes”, he continued, “you’ll be better in an hour, once your pitiful bodies absorb all the joy-juice we pumped in you. Now, get yourselves up, take your morning piss, and be ready in 20 minutes!”

“Ready for what?”, demanded EagleRock, as he stepped toward the doorway.
” We’re not going anywhere without some answers fir….”

The bat moved almost too fast to be seen, stopping only when it hit the side of EagleRocks’ head with a sickening thud. EagleRock fell to the ground like a ragdoll – out cold, but still breathing. Coop could swear he saw little blue birds flying around his head, just like in the cartoons. What the hell was in that cocktail?

“Anyone else need some answers now?”, and he waited for someone else to try something stupid.

The silence was broken by an unseen voice from beyond the open doorway: “Hey, Slinger, stop fuckin’ with the fresh meat. Your god-damn portable hole is starting to act up again, and Rock wants you down to fix it NOW!”

“Yeah, Yeah, Yeah. I’m coming already!”, Slinger yelled back. Then, under his breath he muttered as he left the room,” I oughtta take this bat to his freakin’ head, too. Hey, that would killing two Rocks with one Bert!”, and he laughed hard at his own stupid joke as the steel door slammed behind him.

“Two Rocks?!??”, Coop thought to himself, even more confused than before.

. . .

As Slinger approached the control panel to the heavily-modified Aperture Generator, private Coby ran up to him with a clipboard, and started rattling out some close-to-useless statistics: “Field strength is nominal, remote anchor point is a little unstable, within 10 degrees variance. But the temporal and extra-dimensional control field is fluctuating wildly!”

Rock walked in the room just as Coby finished his report, and demanded, “Now, will somebody tell me in English what the living fuck did that cockroach just say?”

“He said the damn thing is wobbling again, and I gotta fix it”, answered Slinger, as he made some programming adjustments and swapped out a circuit board from the control console.

“Well, what are you waiting for?”, Rock bellowed. “We have to keep that hole open. Sooner or later, the remaining self-righteous dumb-asses on the other side will figure out enough of the planted information to trigger the gateway, and then launch a rescue party to save their comrades. We’ll knock them off after they all make it here, and we can get down to phase two of our little project as soon as they all have been neutralized. Slinger, hurry up on stabilizing the hole, or you’ll understand neutralization, too”

Without missing a beat, Slinger spun around to face Rock, looked him square in the eyes, and growled “Hey, douchebag, without me, you won’t keep this thing running for more than a day or so at most. No Slinger, no portal –no portal, no project. No project, no need for Rock, get it?!?!?! So, shut the fuck up and let me do my job!”

After a few minutes, Slinger looked pleased with himself after stabilizing the gateway once more. One day, he was going to have to program in all of the self-adjusting parameters – after all, he programmed all of the other modifications to the Aperture Generator. And with those programs, there were literally no limits on where the other side of the portal could come to rest.

Coby was monitoring the portal signal input/output, when he suddenly blurted, “Slinger, I’m getting a concentrated vector of neurostatic energy from just beyond the event horizon within the portal.”

“What, are they sending a ‘droid or a smart bomb through?”

“No, in fact, it’s roughly human shape!”, Coby answered, almost bursting with excitement.

“Human? Where?” Slinger jumped up and approached the center of the portal. Squinting his eyes, he tried to focus on the object in the middle of the undulating blackness. “What the….”, but before he could finish, an electrical burst shot out of the portal, crackling in the air, and blinding everyone in the room like an unwanted flashbang.

When their eyes re-adjusted to the light, they saw that the portal had been shut down by the discharge – and Slinger was nowhere to be seen! “Where the hell did he go?”, demanded Rock. Coby checked the console, and as the aperture reappeared, he could only shake his head. “Console reads that Slinger was pulled into the portal. But we are not picking up his lifesigns anymore. His subdural emergency locator is not showing up at all.”

“So, what does that mean, Coby?”, Rock asked, already getting that sinking feeling in his stomach as he waited for an answer that he really didn’t want to hear.”

“Rock, I think Slinger got disintegrated somewhere between dimensions in the Portal. He’s gone. No coming back.”

“Just abso-fuckin-lutely perfect”, Rock hissed. “Well, without him, I don’t need you around now, either.” He pulled out his Deagle, and with a single round, drilled a bloody hole in the center of Coby’s forehead. “Well, I feel a little bit better now. Hey, somebody take out this trash. And find me that bitch Buster – she spent enough time with Slinger, maybe she can run this bastard child of theirs.”

. . .

Byte just stood and stared at EagleRock. He was in filthy civilian clothes, almost tattered to rags. His beard was flecked with grey and ragged. He was unarmed, which was very unusual.

“I figured I run into you up here sooner or later.”, EagleRock said somberly.

“Why is that?”, Byte asked

“Because you always return to the scene of the crime. You can’t help yourself.”, he retorted.

“Crime? What crime?”, Byte was confused even more.

“Oh, don’t play ‘desert madness’ with me. We both know you’re still sane. And still guilty of using that infernal Aperture gateway to drop a nuke on the Barracks.”, and his eyes flashed with hatred.

“Bullshit, I did no such thing. Besides, how are you still alive?”. Byte was nervous and on the defensive now.

“Because you didn’t plan on some of us not being there at night. Coop, Phantom and me were on a night beer run. We went into town when we discovered that we had knocked off all the brew celebrating YOUR climb to Supreme Commander the week before. Yeah, really nice – and all along, you were a double agent for the Moderators.”

Byte just stood there, unable to say a word. Trapped in a body that wasn’t hers, in a land that was all but dead because of her actions, she just didn’t know what to say or do.

EagleRock looked into the masculine face, and snickered, “Oh, so now you shed a tear for all those you betrayed and killed. A little bit late for that, don’t you think?”

Byte sat down hard, with her face in her hands. EagleRock stood there, silently. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, Byte spoke in a soft, controlled voice:”

“EagleRock, I’m not crazy, but I have to tell you the truth – at least from my side. It’s going to sound outrageous, but keep it in the context of being able to slip through the 10 dimensions using the Aperture generator – and not by choice.”

“Oh, a story. I love a good story”, he sneered as he sat down cross-legged on the dirt and rested against a scarred boulder. “Well, go ahead. Tell me something that will actually make me change my mind about you.
For the next two hours, Byte retold the past as the way that she saw it. She told him of her past, of the accident and the implants and her broken deal with the government. She told him everything, include the recent accident that not only brought her here, but caused her to switch bodies. EagleRock sat wordlessly, listening to everything, but saying nothing.

When she was finished, she looked in his eyes. He didn’t seem too angry anymore, but she couldn’t tell.

“I just don’t know”, started EagleRock, ” whether to believe you or not. But the ByteSlinger I know isn’t capable of this much feeling and compassion. Then again, he was capable of lying to my face and betraying us all.”

He stood up, and said “It’ll be getting dark soon. Even though I’m not sure what to believe now, I can’t let you spend the night outside. The scorpions would make short work of you. Come stay the night at my cave – we both need some grub and some shut-eye. Then maybe in the morning, I’ll know what to believe.”

“Well, if you’re not sure, I can stay out at night. A few scorpions don’t bother me”, she retorted as her voice cracked.

“Not these scorpions. They’re four feet long and travel in packs. They are very photosensitive, so they spend the daylight in the caves and caverns, and only come out when it’s dark to hunt and eat. Oh, did I mention that they are carnivorous? All of this mutation courtesy of that little care package you destroyed the Barracks with. On second thought, it would be poetic justice for you to die at the claws of the creatures you created.”

Byte didn’t say a word. EagleRock started walking down the hill, and Byte just walked along side him. Nothing much left to say. She just hoped that the morning light would be kinder to her.

. . .

The sun rose over the valley, spilling into the tunnel and catching Idiot-Buster’s eye. He had spent all night decoding more files from the computer, and although they started to make the picture clearer, he was too bleary eyed to see it. Nothing came thorough the portal, even though they all hoped that their comrades would re-appear after a while.

SlntCobra was manning the portable communication console when suddenly, he let out a howl. “Hot shit! EagleRock’s PDA is online again – we have an open channel! I’m going to record this, just in case!”, and he set up the system to record the comm. session.

“Hey, Byte, are you there?”, EagleRock asked,” I think the speaker on this thing is fucked, because all I hear is mostly static – but once in a while, I do get bits and parts of some phrases. I hope you can make out what I’m saying…”

Truth be told, he was coming in loud and clear.

“Don’t have much time. I hide this thing in the floor under my bunk, and only take it out when I know it’s safe. Not sure how long we’ve been here. They drugged us when we first arrived, and it screwed up all of our biological clocks.”

“We have practically no chance of escaping on out own. If you can figure out a way to sneak in and rescue us, that’ll be great. All 26 of us would love to be home right now. I suggest using the “Mighty Fly” for recon.”

“26?”, thought Idiot-Buster,” there were only half that in the meeting. Who are the other guys?”

There was a long pause; Porkchop interjected a quick opinion,” Yeah, the Mighty Fly – 16 GB of programmable aerial recon the size of a house fly. Even looks like one! Imagine, an hour of video and audio in a unit that’s the size of a small peanut with wings. Gotta love those sneaky French…”, then he was cut off as EagleRock continued.

“Damn, they’re coming. Gotta hide this again! EagleRock over and out.”

“Well, they’re still alive and sending us intell. Good, then we proceed as planned.”, announced Idiot-Buster. Then he continued, “Lizzardis, you and SlntCobra work on programming two Mighty Flies. Mich, help them out by figuring the best flight path and landing location based on all the intell so far. Porkchop, I need you to keep monitoring the comm. station and the Portal. Check in with Krev and see what she found out from Byte’s data stream”

Porkchop interrupted, ”Hey, commander, that’s all well and good, but I’m not doing anything until I take my morning dump and get a cup of joe in me. Anybody got a newspaper?”. He stood up, and as he headed for the bathroom, he walked by Byte, still unconscious and strapped to the table. Part of him felt sorry for her. And part of him wanted to cop a cheap feel when nobody was watching. He was so busy looking at her breasts he didn’t notice that her cyber-arm had rebooted itself, and her eye was online again…

(End of Chapter 3)


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Master of the Portal
Master of the Portal

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Post Thu Jun 17, 2010 10:45 pm

Re: Through a Mirror Darkly - Chapter by Chapter

"Through A Mirror Darkly"

Chapter 4

No Rest For the Wicked.

Originally posted on September 22nd, 2009


Byte and EagleRock arrived at the cave he called home just as the sun was starting to set. He unbolted the steel-reinforced door, and it protested with a rusty whine as he swung it inside. There was a lantern by the entrance, and as he lit it, Byte could see that the walls of the cave were corrugated steel – an apparent act of salvage from some unused garage or hangar.

“Get in – gotta secure this door before those scorpions smell us”, barked EagleRock, and pushed Byte out of the way. The door shut with a solid thud, and with the lock bar down, provided a formidable shield from the world outside. Byte stood still as EagleRock walked a few feet down, and flicked on a light switch. A few bare bulbs lit up the room, and in the gloom Byte could make out a cot, a small table and two chairs, a series of shelves with rations, and storage boxes turned sideways and stacked, which provided shelf and storage space for various gadgets and utensils.

“Lights run on marine batteries. I have a generator that I use to recharge them every few days”, he said out loud to no one in particular.

Further down the room, Byte could see boxes and crates full of old equipment, computer components, and uncounted data disks strewn around like yesterday’s Frisbees. It looked like EagleRock had salvaged what he could and brought it all back here.

“Well, this is where I live. Been here 12 years. It was originally an emergency bunker, stocked with rations, a generator, water – all the things you’d need to survive until help came. Enough room and food for two dozen men to make it a month if they were careful. But help never came. No one came…”, and his voice trailed off.

Byte sat down on the floor by the front door, feeling very uneasy, but knew that it would be an intrusion for her to go in any further unless specifically invited.

EagleRock spun around suddenly, and stared directly at Byte. His eyes were red, and he was crying –and very angry. “I’ve been in this hole 12 years – all because of you! And now you tell me some half-assed story that you’re really a different person trapped in the body of the man single-handedly responsible for destroying the EGB and killing over 70 of his comrades? How stupid do I look? I know you – you want to wait until I’m asleep, and then you’ll kill me like the coward that you are. You don’t have the balls to look someone in the face before you kill them. Oh, wait, there was that one time you killed Tom’s goon Zardis with your bare hands. And yet, out of everyone you killed in your pathetic existence, that one murder was the only one I could accept.”

“Why is that? What made that one death acceptable to you?”, Byte answered, also in tears.

“Because that little prick had it coming. When you convinced April that Tom was weak, and that the EGB was destined to take over Newgrounds, the portal and the rest of the planet, she realized what side would win. You made grand plans to lead the capture yourself – a turncoat from within the EGB to side with the Admins and Mods, and in exchange for your help in eliminating their enemies, you would be in command of whatever chunk of land you’d like. Tom and Wade thought they could bring Newgrounds back to original status from years ago, but they lacked a plan, and kept trying to be politically correct. So you lead a group of traitors that would take over Newgrounds – and ultimately kill off anyone in your way.”. EagleRock tailed off the conversation for a bit, then continued: “I might as well get this off of my chest – I never thought I’d ever see the face of doom again…” EagleRock sat quiet for a moment, then looked Byte in the eyes and said “Might as well tell you what I know. If you are who you say you are, you’ll need to understand what you fell into. And if you’re the REAL Slinger, I’m sure it will provoke you into anger and rage…and give me a reason to kill you now.”

EagleRock continued his tour down the dark memory lane. “April was convinced you’d be the victor,“ he explained, “so she dumped Tom and pledged her allegiance to you. But it was more than that – for the first time ever, we could see that the almighty Slinger actually cared for someone besides himself. A year or so later, you had that military wedding – and it made Tom nuts with jealousy. Shortly after that, he caught wind of your plot from a traitor in your midst. He wanted to hurt you for taking away his girl, and he wanted her to feel pain like she never felt before…”, and EagleRock’s mind wandered off again, as if trying to recollect all the events from the past that made a path to today.

“So he sent his goon Zardis after April, with explicit orders to kill her somewhere at home – and no head shots. The death should not be immediate – give her time for reflection and suffering as she bleeds out. Tom was a nasty, spiteful weakling, and he paid a nice pile of coin for that mercenary to do his bidding”

Byte just sat there, wordlessly. This was not the world she knew. These were not the people that she called friends.

“But the night Zardis followed her home, you were in the yard, setting up for a moonlit dinner by candlelight. She had said that she had some great news to share, and wanted to celebrate it in a special way. So you made all the arrangements in the back yard, and waited behind the trees in the side yard to surprise and meet her.”

“Around 8:00PM, just after dark, her car pulls up; you watch her get out, when suddenly from behind the tree next to the driveway, Zardis jumps out, and empties a clip of 9-millimeter rounds into her chest and legs. “

“Your fighting instincts took over, and the moment you heard the click of the empty chamber, you lunged towards your wife’s assassin, catching him by surprise – and by the neck as well. Didn’t take long to squeeze the life out of that worm. When he stopped twitching, you got up – mad at yourself for not checking out your wife first. But you know down deep that she was already dead before you got to her – there was just nothing you could do.”

Byte was completely engrossed now, and tears streamed down her dirty cheeks. She wiped a few away, making streaks of mud all over her face. But since she was in a guy’s body, it really didn’t look all that masculine. In fact, she looked like a little lost boy – and in so many ways, she was…

“You held her in your arms in the driveway until the police and ambulance arrived. When they took over, you got up, and realized that she had dropped her pocketbook, and it had spilled open. And there, on the ground, you found the sonogram image of your son at 9 weeks development. April was pregnant – that was the good news you would have shared that night.”

Byte waited for EagleRock to pause, and then asked, “How do you know all of this?”

“Because for the months that followed, you spent every night talking to me about. About how you should have protected her better. How you should have been stronger when they placed two caskets in the ground five days after your world collapsed. I felt your pain, but I wonder now – was it all real, or part of the act to make us believe you weren’t a traitor?”

“There was no court martial – everyone agreed that Zardis’s death was justified, and you helped save the taxpayers thousands and thousands of bucks by taking him out of commission, instead of sending his ass to prison to live off our taxes and grub off the government. You took a two-week paid leave to get your head on straight, but when you came back, you were so quiet and withdrawn, and more anti-social than usual. But we left you alone, figuring that eventually, you’d snap out of it.”

Byte stared in disbelief. This was terrible – and from the looks of things, this story wasn’t over yet.

“About 4 months later, you send some of us a private message on our comm. channels telling us that it was time to make some radical changes in the city and the government, and you wanted us to stand by you as you helped overthrow the administration of NewGrounds, along with a select few of some other “patriots” that wanted to bring NewGrounds back to it’s former glory. We thought you were crazy, and told you so in no uncertain terms…then two days later, you disappear – and the next evening a black hole forms over the EGB, and a nuclear missile about the size of a minivan drops out of the sky. It explodes 3000 feet above the EGB complex – and levels it to rubble in under a second.”

EagleRock’s voice cracked as he continued,” And Coop, Phantom and me watched all our friends die in that inferno. We were 15 miles away, just heading back, when we felt all the noise and sound. The onboard Geiger counter registered the radiation as dangerous, even where we were. But we all had to see what happened. We sped down the road, the beer and chips bouncing around, clanking and rustling. We crested Cooper’s Ridge – and that’s where we all realized that the men and women of the EGB – and the complex itself – were all completely annihilated. Cooper’s Ridge – I visit it every day, and I had hoped against hope that one day I’d see you again – and when I did, I would kill you personally.”

Byte gulped. She was locked in this steel room with no weapons and a very upset and unstable man holding a 12 year old grudge.

“But after a few years, I gave up. I just had to survive. I heard that cleanup squads were looking for EGB survivors and killing them with prejudice. We had to hide. We were going to start a new EGB, find new cadets, and rebuild the barracks. It was a great idea – until Coop got killed by a rockslide, and Phantom cracked and ran off screaming into the mountains. I’ve been alone for seven years now – and wouldn’t you know that my first fuckin’ visitor in seven years was YOU!”

EagleRock grabbed a heavy mug filled with some brackish liquid and hurled it at Byte’s head. She ducked, and it shattered on the metal wall behind her. Not quite sure what was in that mug – but it was cleaning the rust off quite nicely. For a moment, she almost laughed, because that absurd vision reminded her of Billy Mays hawking his rust and scale cleaner. The shit on the wall was actually doing a better job than what she remembered in the commercials.

“Dammit, that was my favorite mug.” He reached into a box, pulled out another mug that looked identical to the first, and walked over to an odd-looking machine. It hissed and gurgled and smelled a little bit like bitter chocolate and burning coffee. EagleRock put his mug by the spout, opened the spigot, and some hot and steamy mud slobbered out into his mug. “At least I still have one luxury in this hellhole. Do you drink espresso?”

Byte shook her head back and forth slowly, ”No…no, thank you.” EagleRock was like his espresso – overdone, bitter, and a grim reminder of what used to be good. He wasn’t a leader anymore. He wasn’t even really sane anymore. But he was the only chance Byte had to figure out how to get back and make this all right.

EagleRock finished his drink, and then reached over in a pile and tossed a bedroll at Byte. “You sleep by the door. The head is over on your left. At daybreak, you get some grub – and get the hell out of my house.”

“I’m surprised you just don’t throw me out now, and let the scorpions do me in”, she said in a sheepish voice.

“Because no matter how bitter and angry I get, I will never stoop down to your level to kill someone just for my own selfish desires. I still carry the honor of the EGB with me, and no one can take that from me, ever!”, and with that, he flipped off the lights, leaving only the lantern as a nightlight. Byte opened up the bedroll, slid in, and fell asleep faster than she expected…


Rock summoned IB to the portal chamber, and as always, she kept him waiting. She kept all her men waiting. She had the reputation of being called the “Barrack’s Taxi” – everyone gets a ride, and everyone pays. Most of the women in the EGB worked in her brothel – the extra pay helped make living here a little bit easier. Everyone called her IB (which rhymes with ‘ivy’). The men claim it stands for “Incredible Boobs”. The women say it’s short for “Imitation Bust” . But no one is really sure what the initials stand for – and if her boobs were real or not. Didn’t really matter, actually.

She strode in without a care in the world, wearing a uniform that was clearly spray-painted on. Her long, dark hair and flashing eyes belied a sense of mystery – but for most of the men in the EGB, she was the hottest thing on two legs – or off of them. Through a combination of guile, ability and sexual favors, she had the honorary rank of Commander – but she’s never led a platoon or gave a command outside of her bedroom. It was a good front, because very few people knew that she had a 152 IQ and had more electronic and computer skills than anyone in the barracks – anyone except Slinger.

“You called?”, she asked Rock coyly. It pissed him off that she disrespected him like this, but he was one of the few who knew her real abilities. He had to overlook the attitude if he wanted her to do his bidding – here, or in his bunk.

“Yes, I did. So glad you could join us, your Highness!”. You could hear the sarcasm dripping to the floor. “We have a problem or two that needs your skills…”

“So, who needs a good fuck now?”, she said, getting right to the point.

“No, your OTHER skills, dumbass!”

“Hey, that’s no way to talk to a young lady!”, she protested

“So, when I see a lady, I’ll be nicer”, Rock replied, starting to lose his patience.

“Well! I never!!!!”, IB declared, in mock indignation.

“That’s a lie – with you, it’s ALWAYS. Now, shut the fuck up, and listen. Slinger just got sucked into his Portal – and our illustrious crack-head tech squad says he’s not on the other side – in fact, they claim he’s gone. Now, either you find him, or figure out how to make this thing work so we can use it without his sorry ass being here. I don’t give a shit either way.”

“What makes you think I know how to do either?”, she asked. But she knew that right now Rock needed her – and she was never one to let someone off the hook that easy. She had some leverage now, and that meant she could call the shots.

“Look, you spent the last four months with him – he was your top client. Yeah, yeah, yeah – you can give me the crap that he was missing his wife and kid and crying in his beer over all the unfairness in the world. He came to you for solace and comfort, which most of your clients know are your pet names for your tits. But he also chatted quite a bit about this project to you after he was done with his five minutes of shooting. We all know that you are more familiar with his abomination than anyone else here right now. So, stop being stubborn and let’s get it going already.”. Rock was clearly exasperated at this time.

“Sure, I’ll help you – but what’s it worth?”, and she looked him square in his eyes. Rock’s face turned red with anger. He knew he was in a bad spot, and she had him over the proverbial barrel.

“What do you want?”, he growled through clenched teeth.

“Thought you’d never ask. I want a command position. I want to actually lead a platoon, and heft some firepower. I’m tired of just being the company Madame. I joined this man’s army to kill the enemy – and wound up just being an overly decorated toy. I want that power. I want to kick ass and see blood. Quite frankly, I’m tired of being a whore…”

Rock looked at her, smiled, and then doubled over, laughing. “You? … In command? …That’s a laugh! “, and he had to stop to catch his breath. “No woman ever made it in the EGB – they serve one purpose, and one purpose only – to serve us men in charge! You with a platoon? Yeah, over my dead body!...”

He looked up … right into the muzzle of IB’s Deagle. “That can be arranged.”, she said calmly.

“Oh, fuck me…”, Rock muttered, and a half second later, his brains splattered on the wall behind him. His body sunk to the floor in a puddle of blood.

“No, sorry, not into necrophilia today.”, IB answered, and looked around at the crew, who all stood like statues, not saying a word. Then she cleared her throat with a cough, and announced “By the revised articles of the EGB, under command section 17, I hereby claim Rock’s command as mine. If there is anyone who would challenge me, do so now…”

A room full of statues just blinked at her. Even the air conditioning unit went quiet.

“I thought so. I am now the commander in charge. Follow my orders, and you will be happy. Disobey me – and you will be dead. Real simple. Any questions?”

After seeing what happened to Coby and Rock, the statues all shook their heads “no”.

“Good. As you were…”, she smiled. The statues became active again, and without being told, removed Rock’s body, and cleaned up the mess he left behind.

“Now, where the hell are you, lover?”, she said to no one out loud as she examined the Portal system. But Rock was right – with or without Slinger, the project would continue. And now, with Rock out of the way, it would go the way she wanted it.
“So much for this man’s army”, she thought as she worked. “If you want something done right, get a woman to do it!...”


Slinger heard Porkchops’ footsteps fade as he wandered to the head. He kept his eyes closed, and realized that he had been unconscious for a while. The rest had been good for him – he was calmer now, and could evaluate his situation a little bit more objectively. “Hmmm. “, and he started to think it all through. ” I’ve managed to get stuck in this bimbo’s body. Must have been a glitch in the portal. That means either she’s in my body, going through the same shit where I came from, or she’s dead. Maybe I’ll be able to reverse this, maybe not. Doesn’t matter at this time. What matters is the project. These implants are impressive – they are tied directly to the neurocortex, and I can access the systems with just a few thoughts. Looks like someone spent a lot of money on this bitch – which means she’s probably very important here. Maybe later, I’ll see what they can really do. I’m tied up because they think I freaked out for a while. But I bet if I ‘wake up’ nice and calm, they’ll untie me and let me get back to work. Yeah… like a wolf in sheep’s clothing!”

Slinger stirred a little bit, and in the most innocent, Byte-like voice he could muster, said “Hey, I promise to be a good little girl now. Could someone untie me please, before I piss all over this table?!?!?”

“Ah, there’s the Byte we know and love!”, Lizz replied. “Hey, Idiot-Buster, can I untie her – she seems calmer now?”

Idiot-Buster and the rest of the crew approached the table, and he spoke quietly to her. “So, feeling a bit better are we?”

“Yeah, but my head feels like someone hit it with a piano. Hey, can we finish this after I pee? I really have to go”, and Slinger poured it on. In their desire to see Byte okay, they all fell for the act, hook, line and sinker.

“Ok, boys, untie her and help her to her feet. Make sure she gets to the latrine in one piece. When she’s done, we’ll have a status meeting and grab some chow. I think I found the answers in the files, and with Byte back in the game, she’ll be able to fill in the blanks. We should be able to use this damn thing soon – and hopefully keep it open when we go after our command staff”.

"Aw, but I liked her tied up!", added SlntCobra. "The things we could do to her helpless body...", and his voice trailed off as he thought those nasty fantasy thoughts.

"Oh, like you have a chance!", answered Idiot-Buster, "Just untie her already!"

They removed the straps quickly and carefully. Slinger stood up, wavered a little, and headed to the latrine. Lizz and SlntCobra flanked each side, making sure she stayed steady. “So, what happened at the portal?”, Lizz asked. “You got zapped, fell down, and when you got up, you were raving about how this was all wrong, and…”

“And what?”, Slinger said softly, still playing the role of the injured woman

“And you said some pretty far out – and mean – things about Lizz and the rest of us.“, added SlntCobra. “None of it was true, but you thought it was. We had to knock you out with trank – you had just gone crazy!”

Slinger thought a second, and came up with a plausible lie, “Yes, I apologize for that. The surge from the portal affected my implants, and overloaded my neurosystems. It scrambled my head, and for a few moments, I could hear myself say things that I couldn’t stop. It was all random and confused, almost like Tourette’s Syndrome. I remember some of it – oh, I am so sorry I said it. I didn’t mean to, it just blurted out – forgive me?”. For this act, Slinger deserved an Emmy. Not too sheepish, not too sarcastic – just about the way Byte would have answered, oddly enough.

They both smiled, “Sure, we forgive you. Now, go take that piss, and when you get back out here, we’ll catch you up on what’s going on!”

Slinger smiled back, and headed into the stall. After she closed and locked the door, she sat down, and said quietly to herself “They’re all gonna die – and those two will be the first to go. They are so annoying!” No one heard her – no one, except Porkchop, who was two stalls over.

“Oh, fuck me”, Porkchop said to himself. And he sat completely still and would wait until Slinger was up and gone.

Then, from the other stall, Porkchop heard ,”Oh, damn – here it comes!”, followed by the sound of bellowing elephants splashing in a shallow mudpuddle. “Ah, that feels better – oh man – somebody better light a match!”

Porkchop held down the urge to gag and vomit. The stink made his eyes tear, and he wanted to get up and run. But he couldn’t let Slinger know he was there. He just had to wait.

“Christ, they don’t pay me enough for this job!”, Porkchop thought to himself.

(End of Chapter 4)


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Post Thu Jun 17, 2010 10:47 pm

Re: Through a Mirror Darkly - Chapter by Chapter

"Through a Mirror Darkly"

Chapter 5

Situation FUBAR

Originally posted on September 25th, 2009


Thud. Thud. Two ungentle kicks in the side brought Byte out of her slumber. For a moment, she couldn’t remember where she was; the sleep did nothing to relieve any of the exhaustion her body felt since yesterday. Then she remembered that she was in EagleRocks’ place , sometime in the future – and in a strange body. “Wow. All of this before breakfast?”, she thought, “well this day sucks already.”

“Sun’s up. Your invitation has expired. Grab some grub and gear, and get the hell out of my place. You got five minutes, and then I’ll be tossing your dead carcass out the door. Either way, you’ll be gone.”, EagleRock growled, and then turned and walked back into the shadows of his den.

Byte stood up slowly, and then looked around for what she could grab. This masculine body was a bit stronger than her original, so she could load it up a little heavier with gear.

EagleRock appeared out of the gloom, holding an overstuffed rucksack and bedroll. “Here, take it. Plenty of food, a compass, a few knives, two canteens, couple of changes of camos, some soap – the basics. “

“Thank you. Very considerate of you”, she said sincerely.

“Don’t thank me. I stayed up all night watching you, making sure you wouldn’t try to kill me in my sleep. While I was up, I put this pack together for you so you’d have no reason to delay your departure.”, he retorted flatly.

“Now, get the fuck out already. I’m gonna lock the door behind you and catch some shut-eye. Don’t bother knocking or trying to get back on my good side. There’s nothing you can do or say that will change my mind about you. The next time I see you, I will shoot with prejudice.”, and his face was stone, unmoving and uncaring.

“Ok. I’ll go. But I have a favor to ask…”,Byte interjected.

“I know it already”, EagleRock sneered. “Outside the door, about 500 yards to the right, you’ll find a wooden crate. Inside will be some firearms and some ammo. Take what you want. Wasn’t going to arm you while you were inside my house or anywhere nearby. I know you’re a trained marksman – and I’m not stupid.”

Byte put the pack on, and adjusted the straps to fit. EagleRock opened the door, and 12 years of rust groaned in protest once more. The sun was up, and the desert was starting to get warmer already. Byte stepped through the doorway, and was about to turn around and thank EagleRock, when suddenly she was shoved from behind and fell forward. As she hit the ground, she heard the door slam solidly. The sounds of the iron reinforcement bars being slid into place was the last thing she heard – and then, silence. No birds. No animals calling to each other. Not even the wind in the few trees she could see. No planes overhead. All she heard was the sand crunching under her boots as she walked towards the crate.

The lid came off easily, but her excitement turned to disappointment as she unwrapped the weapons – and discovered that most of them were damaged or rusty or full of sand. The only bright part was that EagleRock left some cleaning oil and clean rags in the box. “Glad I know how to field-strip, clean and rebuild these toys.”, she said to no one there.

One by one, hour after hour, she stripped them all, cleaned them up, and tested them to see how smooth they work. Anything that didn’t feel right, she tossed away. Four hours passed – it was almost noon – but Byte now had three handguns, a semi-automatic rifle, and a fully automatic AK47. By her count, she had about 100 rounds of ammo for each one, and with the help of a couple of bandolier belts and a few tie-on bags, mounted it all on her pack. She then continued to walk away from EagleRocks’ lair, along the mountain foothills, and ate some rations along the way.

It was eerily silent all day, but Byte knew at night the real owners of the desert come out to claim what was theirs. The entire ecosystem was a wreck – very few plants, no visible insects. But those armored scorpions had to live on something – and her bet was that everything living was in caves or underground now. Which meant come sundown, she needed a place to hole up and not become part of the food chain.

Deciding that higher ground may be easier to defend than in the foothills, Byte followed what looked like to be an old footpath up the side of the next hill. It gradually turned into very weathered and cracked concrete steps, making the climb just a bit easier. When she crested the top, she couldn’t believe what she saw.

Sitting in the center of the flattened hilltop was the remains of a crumbling church. Every window was missing, the steeple lay in ruins by the back door, and the front doors were hanging open on broken hinges. Off to the left was what was left of a barn – the roof had collapsed to the ground, and the walls were nothing more than splintered kindling.

But what caught her eye was the cemetery. It wasn’t very big – maybe 100 headstones. Many of them looked very old and weathered. But there were three stones in the back, under what was left of an oak tree, that looked much newer than the rest. Her heart pounded with anticipation – who was the last person buried here?

When she arrived at the three headstones, her jaw dropped as she read the names: “Coop83”…”Phantom”…”EagleRock”. The first grave was filled in, and on top of it was an old helmet and rifle, both of which had Coop’s name on it. “So, this is where Phantom and EagleRock buried Coop after he died in the rockslide…”, she thought, and quietly said a prayer for her fallen comrade.

The other two graves were open, with the dirt piled to the side. They looked like open mouths, beckoning for their dead to come and silence their calls for all eternity. “Well, at least one of them will rest in peace. I wonder who will bury me – if there is anything to bury?”. Byte became very melancholy; then she made the sign of the cross, and entered the ravaged church.

Sunlight streamed through the broken windows and countless holes in the ceiling, illuminating rows of broken pews leading to an upended altar. Usually, over the altar, a church would have a cross, and possibly a cross with Jesus if it was Catholic. But there was no cross here. Instead, someone had tacked up a piece of corrugated aluminum, and had spray painted on it, in big red letters, one ominous word: “Unforgiveable”.

She took a few steps back – and caught herself just before she fell into a hole in the floor. Turning around and looking at it, the hole was about three feet in diameter, and all the wood was pointing down – someone or something had fallen down into the basement. Taking the flashlight from the backpack, she peer down into the darkness…

…and saw the twisted body of an Elite Guard lying on the floor, his neck bent at an impossible angle. “Phantom?!? Is that you?”, she asked out loud, as if the corpse would answer her. “I just can’t leave him there. The least I can do is bury him in a proper grave." After a little bit of careful searching, Byte found an unlocked door to the basement tucked away in the corner of the narthax. The stairs down were dusty, but unbroken – and there was even a handrail.

Just before she took her first step, the military instincts kicked in. “Is the area secure? Are there any threats in the dark?”. More digging around in that pack, and she found what she needed – a flashbang. She tossed it down the stairs, and turned away from door as the grenade detonated. No other noises afterwards – no scurrying or climbing or scratching – nothing. Putting on the night-vision goggles as a precaution, and bringing out the automatic AK47 as the best insurance policy around, she slowly descended the stairs. Nothing moved. Nothing was there- except the corpse.

The corpse lay on its back, it’s legs folded underneath and arms overhead. From the looks of it, this corpse was a few years old. Then she looked at the name sewn on the shirt – and her blood turned to ice. She reached for the dog tags that hung on his chest, and they had the same name as his shirt…

…Supreme Commander ByteSlinger.



Porkchop was still holding his breath and trying his best not to move when he finally heard the toilet flush two stalls down. He heard Byte stand up and get herself put back together, wash up a bit, and leave the latrine without another word. Counting to ten to make sure the coast was clear, Porkchop carefully got himself together, and snuck quietly out the door…

…into the scowling gaze of Byte! Their eyes met, and Porkchop felt his stomach drop in one of those “oh, shit..” moments. “She knows I was in there, and she knows I heard her”, he thought to himself. His heart was racing, and he was certain that his face was covered in sweat.

“Private Porkchop!”, Byte said in a growl. The other men in the room stopped to watch what was going on. “Are you aware of what you did in that latrine?”, she asked him, and her face darkened into an evil grin. Porkchop started to answer, but he was so nervous, all he could do was stutter. “I…uhhh..uuuhhh… Ummmm…ahhhh..”. And it was probably the best answer he could have given.

“’Ummm’ is not an answer, Private! Let me tell you what you did…”, she continued. Then she leaned forward, and whispered to him, “You forgot to wash your hands after you took a dump! Very unsanitary!”, and then she leaned back and laughed. “Oh, Christ on toast!”, he thought to himself. “ she doesn’t think I heard her. Phew! Dodged that bullet. Hehehehe…”

“Wash… my …hands?!?! That’s it?!?”, he stammered, and did a double face-palm. “Now, go back in, and clean up like a good little Private, and then join us for the briefing!”, Byte said cheerily, turned him around and nudged him back through the door. Then she thought to herself as he walked away, “I know he heard what I said, but as long as he thinks that I don’t think he heard me, it’ll be business as usual. And it will be, for now…”

Back at the barracks, Krev noticed that Byte’s implants were back online again, and with the help of A-Wahl, ran some remote diagnostic tests. A few minutes later, Krev examined the diagnostic report, and something didn’t sit right. “Hey, A-Wahl, punch up the brainwave pattern files for Byte over the last week. Just the mid-day scans, ok?” A few moments later, a series of 3-D graphs appeared on the LCD screen. Krev got them to align and display – and sure enough, up until yesterday, the Neurocortex scans all show pretty much the same thing.

But today’s scan was different. It didn’t come close to any of the existing scans on file. Krev had an idea, but wanted a second opinion. “So, pop quiz, my young padawan – what’s wrong with this, and why?

A-Wahl looked at the scans, and in a minute, came up with the same conclusion: “All of them, except the latest, are identical. Are you sure this last scan came from Byte, and not from the helpful staff? These sure as hell weren’t the same wave patterns from yesterday”

Krev replied, “Well, either the circuits are seriously fried in the implants, and these are false readings….

…or there’s somebody else living inside of Byte.”

“We gotta tell Idiot-Buster!”, yelled A-Wahl, and reached for the comm. microphone. “Hold it – we need to tell him privately. If that isn’t Byte, we can’t let her know that her cover is blown – she could get violent”. Krev adjusted the comm station to connect directly to Idiot-Buster’s headset on a private channel, and sent a vibrate-only pulse to get his attention.

That would have worked - if he was wearing his headset. But he took it off because it kept getting in the way when he was tracing the computer wires and inspecting the portal hardware. It sat unanswered on a table near the console while the crew was discussing their rescue plan.

“Now that Byte is back among the coherent, I’ll need her to finish decrypting the files I found on the console, and figure out how to use this thing – or at least stabilize it. Think you’re up to it, Byte?”

Byte smiled a little, and answered, “Sure thing, boss!”. Of course she could do it – “she” built that console and knew it cold.

“Good. Use that bionic arm of yours to interface to the system, and download everything you can, even if you can’t decrypt it now. We can upload it to your EGB mainframe later when we have time”

Byte paused for a moment to think, ”So, this is more than just a prosthetic arm – it’s also a computer interface and storage unit…”. Suddenly, the implant showed an overlay of a floating program menu that controlled the arm’s system. “Whoa…”, she said softly, but no one heard her. Her thoughts were racing : “Well now, between the information in that portal system and the use of these cybernetics, I’ll be able to complete my mission – and take my place as the leader of both the EGB and NewGrounds”, and she gave an evil grin that would have made Hannibal Lecter run like a sissy girl. Idiot-Buster had been speaking the entire time about assigned duties, the importance of the mission, and his game plan for rescue. Byte hadn’t heard a word – she was too wrapped up in playing with her new-found toys to really listen – or care.

“..so, we all have our duties – let’s get moving!”. Idiot-Buster finished with his motivational speech, and everyone stood up from the table. Byte walked towards the console, and as she approached the table, she saw the wayward headset – and the access LED was blinking. Looking around quickly, she palmed the headset, and put it to her ear…

“Idiot-Buster, this is Krev. Please answer. Are you there? This is important. Something is wrong with Byte. C’mon, man, where the hell are you?...”, and it continued along those same lines.

“So, they’re on to me – they know something is up.”, Byte thought to herself. She put the headpiece in her robotic left hand, and slowly applied pressure until she heard the case crack, the LED go dim, and the earpiece go silent. “When he finds this broken, we’ll blame it on cheap Korean parts”, she muttered, and placed it back down on the table.

At the console, Byte found the maintenance access port, and realized that he needed some sort of adapter to plug into it. She queried the eye-menu, and found the section on interfaces. She selected “scan for interfaces and connect”.

A message box appeared, floating in front of her ,”Please select interface visually”; it faded out and was replaced by a cross-hair. She focused on the maintenance port for a moment, and then the screen replied, ”Port identified. Standard IEEE 2045.5B, 32 pin construct – just a moment…interface being programmed…”

Then the index and middle fingers of her robotic hand opened up, and then started to change and reconfigure themselves. “Holy shit – I’m a Transformer!”, she gasped. In a few seconds, her fingers became the perfect plug that would fit the maintenance port – and it extended on a flexible stalk almost 18 inches long. She lined up the plug to the port, and jacked in. "More than meets the eye!", she chuckled.

Her optical implant opened up a new dialogue box: “Remote system requires 278 GB of storage for complete backup. There is 890 GB free on this system. Backup time estimate: 14 minutes. Proceed with backup?”

“Oh, yes…yes indeed”, she whispered, and she felt the system come alive as the data was ripped from the portal system into her arm’s online storage. “I don’t know who you were, or why they gave you this arm, but now, it’s mine to use as I see fit …”, Byte thought as she logged into the console and pretended to decode the files. She already know how to use this system, and she sure as hell wasn’t going to help these sad sacks. But she had to make it seem like she was playing along.

“Idiot-Buster”, she called out, and he turned to look at her. “I’m accessing the system now – I’ll need about 15 or 20 minutes to get to the good stuff. I’ll let you know when I’m ready for you.”, and she turned away, to think some more while she waited for the download to finish. “I can’t wait to get back home. These people are soft and merciful and peaceful – everything I despise in an inferior race. It’s strange – everyone here has a counterpart in my homeland, but some are so different. Christ – I’m a woman here – and IB is a guy! Talk about role reversals…People that are dead one place are alive in another. Well, when I get back home, I guess I’ll have to adjust to this body – and it’s really not half bad. The cybernetic bonus makes it a real keeper, though. I just hope the IB at home doesn’t mind the new chassis…”

While Byte was downloading and plotting her next moves, Porkchop was working with SlntCobra on readying all of the weapons for the assault. SlntCobra forgot more about weapons than most other soldiers remembered - a veritable walking encyclopedia whose knowledge proved very valuable time and time again. “Hey, ‘Cobra, do you think Byte’s okay? She really doesn’t seem to be her old self”, Porkchop asked. He didn’t want to give away his knowledge of what he overheard in the latrine just yet, in case he was somehow mistaken. “Yeah, she’s okay.”, SlntCobra answered. “Her brain got singed in that portal blast, so cut her some slack. After a couple of days of R&R, she’ll be just fine.”

Porkchop looked over at Lizzardis, who was working with MichelinMan . They were in the process of mobilizing the communication systems and packing up the rest of the gear for the assault when Porkchop said, “Hey, Lizz – follow my lead on this – just play along, ok? – trust me!”, Lizz looked puzzled – and whenever Porkchop said “trust me”, that should be your clue to hide your wallet, your women and your wine. But this time, he had a very serious look on his face – something was up. “Kay”, Lizz answered quickly, and watched PorkChop’s performance from the front row.

“Hey, Byte!”, Porkchop yelled cheerfully, ”Byte! Can you settle a bet real quick? This fucktard over here (and he pointed to SlntCobra) swears that the plane you crashed was the F14 Bravo, but I distinctly remember it as the prototype F22 tango. You should remember that, right? That’s when you lost your arm and your eye. So, which was it? I got a 20 riding on this…”

Byte stared blankly for a moment, and panic set in, “Oh, shit. That’s something that’s not in these files. But SlntCobra has the reputation for having a much better eye for details on military equipment than PorkChop. It’s a safe bet that he’s right.”. Byte smiled and said, “Oh, come on now – that’s a sucker bet. It was the F14 – sorry, Porkchop”, and then she turned away, back to face the console.

Lizz’s mouth dropped open. SlntCobra shook his head slowly, and Porkchop muttered “Oh, shit…”. They all looked like someone not only kicked their puppies, but then ran them over and served them as lunch. MichelinMan whispered to them, “Hey, what was that all about? Why do you guys look so worried?”

Lizz spoke, his eyes starting to tear up a little, “Byte didn’t lose her arm in a plane crash. She lost it when her transport got hit by a rocket while returning on a rescue mission. I know – I was there. That may look like Byte on the outside, but it’s not her on the inside – and we are in deep shit now!”

Porkchop spoke softly, always having to have the last word, “And we’re all gonna die…”

[End of Chapter 5]


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Post Thu Jun 17, 2010 10:47 pm

Re: Through a Mirror Darkly - Chapter by Chapter

“Through a Mirror Darkly”

Chapter 6

Déjà vu All Over Again

Originally posted on September 28th, 2009


Coop helped Slash to his feet as he regained consciousness, and sat him down on the end of the bunk. “That son of a bitch clocked me with a baseball bat…as if my freakin’ head didn’t hurt enough before I got clobbered…”, SlashFirestorm’s voice trailed off as he looked around the bunk, and recognized a lot of faces from the barracks that shouldn’t be here. He looked at PenguinLink and Turkeybean, and shook his head back and forth. “No…no…this isn’t right. I saw you both die in the Portal War of ’07. You – and most of the rest of you, too!”

Coop added his views, ”Yeah, I noticed that there were a lot of old members here – but I can’t figure out how they’re here if they’ve been killed. What the hell is happening here?”

PossiblePancakes stopped puking in a bucket and looked at Slash, and in a barely audible voice murmured, “I think you’re the one who’s crazy, sir. The war just started last week – we haven’t taken any casualties yet in the EGB. Why do you think otherwise?”

Phantom got up, and joined the conversation, “Buddy, you must have been in a coma for two years – it’s the end of 2009, soldier!”

Everyone started to talk at once – how could it be that the old EGB and the new were together again? How come some of them that were dead still be alive now?

“Maybe we’re all dead, and this is Hell”, commented Sentio.

“Oh, it’s Hell alright – but we’re not dead”, answered Coop. “Besides, didn’t you hear that asshole before? There’s ANOTHER EagleRock here – on the other side of that door. Now, tell me what the fuck is really going on?”

The loudspeaker crackled to life, “While it would be very entertaining to watch you all turn on eachother out of suspicion, I’d much rather see you fulfill my desires…again.”

“That voice – I know that voice…”,Andrea said, voice quavering…

“That’s Wade Fulp…”, finished EagleRock

“So, you do remember? Good. I so enjoyed our last meeting. You all tried to fight valiantly, but after a dozen or so skirmishes, well…you know how that turned out, Phantom, don’t you?”, Wade replied, almost too happy.

“Then there was a war – and so many of us died…”, Coop added.

“For someone who is so bright, you think so four-dimensionally. I’m not going to go off into the “bad guy does his monologue to explain the plot and give up his secrets” speech – but I will tell you this: where you are now is the future for some of you, and the past for others. I brought you all back for one simple reason – because I could!”

Phantom’s face went red with unbridled rage, “You fuckin’ prick – show yourself – let’s end this now!”

“Now, now, my dear Phantom. You are in no position to be asking for anything. I, on the other hand, control everything – and if you ever want to see your families again, the leaders of the world must pay me…ONE MILLION DOLLARS…Hahahaha…”, and Wade laughed a forced evil laugh.

“One million…you’re out of your mind!”, Sentio yelled.

SlashFirestorm chuckled, ”Maybe – but I wonder who mini-me is?”, as he recognized the weak joke.

“At least one of you has a sense of humor. Seriously, I am kidding about the money. I just added that for effect to lighten things up a bit. That’s because after the next few days, after all the skirmishes are over, most – if not all of – you will be dead, and some of you for a second time. Then I’ll go and pluck you all out of a different time node again, and do it all over. How many different ways will you die? That’s what’s in it for me! It’s not about the winning – it’s about payback! Now, no more questions – get ready to do battle. You’ll find your lockers are now unlocked, and all the weapons you need are there. Be ready for de_dust in 10 minutes!”, and then the voice was silent.

Along the far wall, part of it slid up to reveal the armory and ready room. Full-height lockers for every EGB member were filled with armor, gear, weapons and ammo, each with their name inscribed on the door.

EagleRock turned to DreamOfDuke and said, “You don’t remember this, do you? You were the first to fight – and the first to die…”

“No, I’ve never fought here before”, Duke answered. “But I will. I owe it to the EGB. I’ve go to make up for all the shit I pulled, and if the EGB really needs me, well, it’s time for me to step up to the plate and give some payback.”

“And that’s what you said minutes before you were killed by BigBadRon in the first challenge”, EagleRock added,” It’s starting all over again”.

Phantom walked over to EagleRock, moved his mouth to his ear, covered his face and whispered ,”Look, we’re being monitored, so we have to keep it low. We don’t have to fight on their terms. What if we choose not to play – they’ll have to send in REAL guards to drag us out. We can battle in here, close quarters. Battle for our freedom – and not because some nutcase likes to use us for meat puppets.”

EagleRock nodded in agreement, and then said out loud “Condition Hornet”. It didn’t matter what year you joined the EGB – everyone knew the special secret condition codes, which would describe the current situation of the EGB without belying too much information to the masses. “Hornet” was the code word for “defend your position at all costs. Do not seek the enemy – let them come to you”

They all went to the lockers, and grabbed everything they could. The weapons may not fire, but they could still be used as clubs and maces; then they all filed back to their bunks, and waited for someone on the other side of the door to complain.

“You want us – come get us – we’re not playing your game again!”, Phantom growled.

The speaker crackled again, and in a flat, ominous tone, just three words were spoken, “You already are…


Byte was almost finished downloading the entire computer file structure to the cyberarm when Idiot-Buster came up quietly behind her. “What’s the status on the control console? Can you get it to work?”, he said suddenly, startling Byte and making her jump. Idiot-Buster had hoped to see what Byte was doing, but didn’t want to be too obvious by looking over her shoulder.

Byte’s first reaction was to swing around and punch the bastard who made her jump – but at the last moment, recognized who it was, and held back.

“Sorry to startle you”, Idiot-Buster added.

“I was deep in thought – just trying to get this all figured out. I’m close - should have an answer within a few minutes”

“Do you think you can keep it open, or re-open it if it shuts down?”

“Yes, I think I can do that”, Byte answered, and then thought to himself, “Yeah, that – and a whole lot more..”

“Carry on – let me know when you’re finished”, Idiot-Buster saluted, and Byte returned the salute as Idiot-Buster spun on his heels and walked back to the rest of the crew.

“I wonder if they realize they’ll all be dead within the hour”, Byte mused to himself. “I got what I need, and I don’t need them anymore.”

Meanwhile, Lizzardis, MichelinMan, SlntCobra and PorkChop were working around a table, trying to look busy, but quietly discussing what to do about Byte. Idiot-Buster joined them, and asked “so, what do we know?”

“We know that may look like our ByteSlinger, but the person inside isn’t.”, Lizz whispered.

“Are you sure?”, Idiot-Buster asked,” She took a really bad jolt – it may just be temporary”

“No”, said Porkchop,” it’s not that. She doesn’t have amnesia – and she’s already threatened us. I overheard her say that we were all dead once she got what she wanted. She doesn’t remember her past, or how she got her arm. The real Byte would admit that she couldn’t remember – she wouldn’t make up stories to fill the gaps”

“Yeah, and remember her tirade right after the jolt?”, added Lizz. “She said I was dead – and that she killed me already! Now, where did that come from?”

“We gotta do something soon – once she’s done screwing around with that console, she may come for us next!”, worried SlntCobra

“But to what means?”, asked Mich. “If that’s not our Byte, then who is it – and what do they want?”

“We should just trank her again, and bring her back to the brig at the EGB”, recommended PorkChop. “At least if she’s out cold, she can’t hurt us!”

“But we need her to keep the Portal open – or else we can’t go after Slash, Eagle and the rest of our command staff – unless Idiot-Buster can figure it out?”, Lizz asked.

“I think I could eventually figure out the controls, but it could take days – and by then, we may have to change our mission from rescue to corpse recovery.”, Idiot-buster reflected glumly, “We have no choice – we have to wait for her to stabilize the portal – and then make our move to take her down. We’ll have to be quick…”

SlntCobra jumped in to add,” If you guys can create a diversion, I’ll take her out with the trank rifle. You know I’m the best shot here – and we’ll only get one chance.”

“We have to time it right – the moment she declares the Portal stable, I’ll take a step back off this ladder, and fall down into those boxes. “, Idiot-Buster added. “It’ll look like I fell, and the noise will get her attention. Before that, Cobra, you’ll need to sneak along the perimeter, behind those crates, and get a clear shot at her. It’ll be tricky, but if she sees you, we’re all in trouble.”

“As a precaution, we all should have trank pistols as well as our regular arms, in case Cobra can’t make the shot”, PorkChop noted, and very discretely handed out the pistols to all of them.

“Let’s do this – remember, we want her alive. Now, take your positions carefully – and good luck!”, Idiot-Buster whispered and backed away from the table.

Cobra discretely grabbed the trank rifle, loaded it with six darts, and nonchalantly headed towards the crates by the wall. Byte was completely turned away and engrossed in the computer, and didn’t see any of this. Cobra found his niche, set up the rifle, and was ready to fire at a moment’s notice.

Meanwhile, Byte was pleasantly surprised by a floating pop-up registering on the optical implant; “Download completed. Command interface to device has been established. Enable administrator control to device now?”

“Yes”, Byte whispered, and the floating menu changed to the main control panel of the Portal device. “I’m in”, he thought. “Now, before I announce it to the world, let’s take a look around”. The main control menu had many options, but the one that caught Byte’s attention was “Surveillance Cameras”

Selecting that option, a new menu appeared. “Remote Cameras” was one option. “Local Cameras” was another.

Byte selected “Remote” – the screen went fuzzy, and then slowly came into focus. On the console Byte could see the other Portal room – HIS Portal room. IB was working on the controls – and -- what was that on the wall behind her? – blood? He didn’t have any audio channel, but it looked like everyone who passed by stopped to ask her something, and she was apparently barking out orders. IB in charge? That meant she invoked section 17 – and took out Rock. “God, I love a feisty woman”, he chuckled to himself.

Byte then selected “Local” – and the entire room behind him was visible. Idiot-Buster was on a low ladder, working on the ammo feeder to the chain gun. And the other guys…”wait…that’s Lizzardis, MichelinMan and Porkchop – where’s SlntCobra?”, Byte questioned the console. He panned the camera around – and found SlntCobra camped behind a crate, with a rifle pointing at the back of his head! It was a trap!

“Well, looks like my cover is blown – time to make good on my promise.”, Byte thought evilly. Using the optical implant, he navigated the control menus until he found power management, and then the “Complete Emergency Power Down” option. Selecting that, a big warning message popped up on the implant, ”Warning: this option will shut down power immediately to all systems in the complex, including lighting, heating and all environmental controls. All computer systems will shut down as well, with a risk of damage to data. This should only be done in extreme circumstances. Verify emergency shutdown via verbal command”

Byte smiled an evil smile, chuckled an even more evil chuckle, and set the optic implant to night and thermal vision. “Confirm shutdown”, he said, just loud enough for the console’s microphone to pick it up.

“Confirmed”, he saw on the menu.. and then the room went black as the circuit breakers all tripped at once. He ducked down, and disconnected the arm from the console – and his fingers automatically reformed as he crouched and started to move towards his victims.

“Oh, what the fuck!!!!!!”, yelled SlntCobra,” Who turned off the fuckin’ lights?!?!?!?”

“Everyone, take cover! “, ordered Idiot-Buster, “Protect yourselves – shoot to kill if you have to! She’s on…”

A flash from a pistol in the dark, followed by the sound of thunder, showed in that split second the falling body of Idiot-Buster as Byte shot him in the side of the head at almost point-blank range. She was right on top of him, and he never saw it coming. But she could see everything – with the thermal and night vision turned on, the rest of the crew might as well have carried neon signs that read “we are here”.

MichelinMan dove for cover, but he was too slow. Another shot, and Mich’s brains spattered all over Lizz. “Ohhh… Noooo!!! Nooooo!!!!”, he squealed in fear. He didn’t know whether to run or stay still. This was all so surreal…this couldn’t be happening.

PorkChop managed to find cover behind a jeep, and pulled out his pistol from the holster. He wasn’t going down without a fight.

SlntCobra dropped the trank rifle, and pulled out his twin Combat 5.0 pistols. They were massive, but if they found their mark, someone was going down hard. Following the gun flash, he fired into the general direction of where he thought he saw Byte shooting, hoping to get a lucky shot in the dark.

Byte heard the pistols going off to the right, and felt the bullets barely whiz by his face. He crouched down, and looked to his right. He saw SlntCobra behind the crates, taking cover. Only the top of his head and one arm was slightly exposed.

“Hey, Cobra, nice shooting! Too bad you missed!”, Byte taunted him in the dark.

“Fuck you, prick! You know if the lights were on, you’d be dead!, SlntCobra growled.

“Ah, but the lights are off - and now, you’re dead.”, SlntCobra heard the words as a red light flashed in his eye. It was the laser sight from Byte’s pistol. “Oh,…”, but before he could curse, thunder filled the room again, and the bullet found its mark. The back of SlntCobra’s head exploded all over the crates – he never saw it coming, never felt a thing.

Lizz found PorkChop in the dark, behind the jeep. Porkchop whispered to Lizz ,”If I shoot, he’ll see us. Maybe we can make a run for the tunnel and get the hell out of here before he sees us”

“Yeah, that could work”, Lizz answered, but he was shaking like a leaf.

“No, actually, it won’t”, It was Byte – he was directly behind them.

“Fuck me!”, yelled PorkChop, and he tried to bring his pistol around. But the deafening thunder was close this time, and in the gunflash, Lizz watched PorkChop’s chest explode through his back. Lizz got up to run – and found that he couldn’t, because Byte had grabbed him by the neck with the cyber arm. Lizz gasped for air, trying to speak, but could only gurgle as panic swept through his body.

“I killed you before like this, and now I get to do it again. You may not be the same guy that I knew, but.. close enough!”. The viselike hand closed completely, crushing Lizz’s neck bones into dust. Byte dropped him to the ground like a used doll.

Wordlessly, Byte walked over to the circuit breaker station, and powered up the room again. The lights came back up, and so did the computer console. He surveyed the carnage in the room, and was quite pleased with himself. “The best part about this”, he said out loud to the deaf corpses, “is that I used your own soldier against you.”

He walked over to the console, jacked back in, and established communications to the other side of the Portal. “Hey, IB, I know you’re there – answer me!”, he barked.

Over the comm, he heard her familiar voice, “Well, look who’s still alive. Where the Hell are you?”

“I’m here at the Remote site – but funny thing is – I’m not really myself these days”

“What the fuck are you talking about?”, IB asked, too tired to play these games.

“Oh, you’ll see. I need to recalibrate the Portal, and then I’ll come back and tell you all about my trip. Oh, and we can continue with the Project, as planned.”, he said, almost too cheerily

“Oh, it will go on, alright – but some of the plans have changed a little”, IB answered

“Would this have something to do with your recent self-promotion?”, Byte asked

IB was caught off guard, “How the hell…who told you?”

“Oh, let’s just say I have eyes everywhere.”, he replied. “Now, let me get back to work. I have to finish this before another bunch of heroes from the EGB try to save the day.”

“Well, don’t kill them ALL off – you know Wade wants to collect as many as he can for his games.”

“Yeah, right. Tell it to these five guys – they’ll be stinkin’ up this place in a few hours. But I won’t be here, so I don’t care. I gotta finish working on this portal first – I’m out!”, and he dropped the comm link.

He looked around some more, and thought, “If Wade or Storm really wants to play with these stiffs, they’ll just have to calibrate back a little bit before I offed them, and grab them just like the others…

[End of Chapter 6]


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Post Thu Jun 17, 2010 10:48 pm

Re: Through a Mirror Darkly - Chapter by Chapter

“Through a Mirror Darkly”

Chapter 7

The Truth Hurts

Originally posted on October 1st, 2009


Byte stared open-mouthed at the body that shared her name. It was male, just like the one she inhabited now. Light from the hole in the floor above illuminated the corpse, making it look like a morbid work of art. But what made the scene truly surreal was the large scorpion stinger broken off in his chest. There were pieces of the floor embedded in his side, and long scratches on his arms. Byte looked up again at the hole, and it became apparent that this poor bastard didn’t fall down a hole – he was hammered through the floor. The last thing he must have seen was the scorpion’s tail ram through his chest, lift him up high, and then slam him down hard enough to wind up in the basement in a twisted, broken heap.

“But what was he doing here?”, she thought. “Was he looking for something, or did he live down here?”. Byte checked her chronometer – it was 15:30 – still plenty of daylight left. She looked at the corpse again, and said quietly, ”Please don’t take this personally, but I need answers”, as she rifled through the body’s pockets and jacket.

From inside the jacket, she found a well-worn notebook full of letters held together by an ancient rubber band; the outside pockets revealed a flashlight with batteries as dead as the owner. His pants pockets divulged about 3 dollars in change, a USB memory stick, and a small locker key. The only weapon he had was a long hunting knife strapped to the inside of his right leg.

But the oddest thing about this corpse was the fact that the skin was still on it, and the internal organs, although devoid of fluids, were still inside, completely mummified. Usually, between bacteria and scavenger creatures, an exposed corpse becomes a pile of bones in less than a year. So why was this corpse different?

She stood up, and slowly scanned the room with her flashlight. Along the far wall was a steel door, with a large metallic handle. She pulled on the handle to open the door, but it only budged an inch, and then stopped. Something was preventing it from opening from the inside! She looked for a keyhole or something that might give her access, and after a long search, discovered that if she slid the fingers of her left hand in the open crack of the door, she could feel indentations in the frame where they would fit. She pushed on all the dents at the same time, and heard a single clank –the door began to swing open slowly outward by itself.

Using the night vision goggles, she looked inside the previously locked room. It was a cement bunker, about 30 feet wide by about 50 feet long, with a ceiling barely seven feet high. There were tattered cubicle walls set up as room dividers, and she could make out a sleeping area, a mess bench and table near a large cupboard, a bathroom, a workbench with a wide variety of tools. But along the far wall was something she had not expected at all – countless computer parts, LCD monitors, cabling – and in the corner….”No, that can’t be…”, she cried out loud.

It was a console similar to the one in the cave – and next to it, a smaller version of the portal device! It looked like it was partially disassembled, and all around it were stacks of manuals and books full of handwritten notes. But what good was all this equipment without any electricity?

Byte turned around and looked along the wall that held the only door out of this room. Behind a cubicle area in the corner was the gift she was looking for. “Hot damn – it’s a generator – and the exhaust line is vented outside the wall!” She checked the tank for gas – it was at about half full, so she hit the primer button half a dozen times, and yanked at the start cord until finally the generator sprung alive. Next to the generator was a power panel, and with the push of the main power lever, the entire room lit up in the soft glow of too many fluorescent lights. The light chased away the stubborn shadows, and she heard the air purifier come alive after too long a sleep.

“This is where he lived – and from the looks of it, he spent a lot of time here. But where did that Portal equipment come from?”, and then it dawned on her, “EagleRock told me that the Aperture Foundation labs were on one of the hills behind him – and I’ve walked around behind those same hills. That place can’t be that far away – this guy must have been doing a lot more than window shopping. But it seems the last time out, he didn’t make it back before dark. Poor bastard…”

Everything was covered in dust, and from the looks of it, no one had been in here for a while. The cupboard had plenty of canned and freeze-dried rations, and there 10 gallon water bottles on the floor. Four of them were unopened; the others lay empty. “Well, at least I have a place to hide in at night – and try to figure out how to get home now.”

Then she remembered the body outside the door. “I can’t leave him – me? – there.”, she said out loud, and grabbed a dusty horse blanket and a shovel. Carefully, she wrapped the remains in a blanket, and carried it over her shoulder up the stairs, and outside to the graveyard. Looking at the two open graves, she decided that if she used EagleRock’s grave for this body, and he found out, he’d go crazier than he already was. Since Phantom was no where to be found, that would be a safer bet – and she could always dig him a grave if the need arose.

She placed the body reverently into the open grave, and a chill went down her spine. “How often do you go to your own funeral?”, she wondered. A half hour later, she had filled the grave with the pile of dirt, and removed Phantom’s headstone. “I’ll keep this in the church, just in case…”. Fashioning a cross out of some scrap wood, she put it in place of the headstone, and hung his dog tags on it. Standing up slowly, she bowed her head, and said a few silent prayers, and then walked back to the church. The sun was low in the horizon, and the church cast long shadows on the ground.

Back inside the bunker, she closed and secured the metal door behind her. All of the walls were solid concrete – she was safe for now. After a quiet meal of some k-rations and bottled water, Byte cleaned up a bunk and made herself as comfortable as she could. “Not sure where to begin – so let’s start with this notebook”, she mused. Opening it up, a few loose papers fell out; they contained some numbers, some mathematical equations, and some rough sketches of a few circuits. “These look important – maybe the book will tell me what they mean.”. Starting from the beginning, she discovered that this was her counterpart’s personal log as well as a project status report – so many details…

[Log entry 2002-03-22-1]
“(Had to start a new log – last one was full). This is my one-year anniversary at the Aperture Science labs. I can honestly say I am enjoying this job quite a lot. They have announced that they will be breaking ground next week on a new lab – and Storm told me I’d be heading the R&D department. He said he’s impressed with the way I’ve improved the circuits on the Portal gun, giving it a range of up to ten miles between endpoints. I told him that in time, I could increase it by a few orders of magnitude. Imagine – eliminating airports, buses and train stations, and instead having a network of portals that let you walk from city to city. No more traffic or pollution or accidents. Yeah, they’ll probably charge people to go through them, but they’d have to buy some sort of ticket anyway. I have big plans, and Storm knows it!”

She browsed a few log entries – nothing exciting – until she got to this one:
[Log entry 2002-08-03-3]
“I found something today at the new construction site-and I’m keeping it to myself. I’m calling it ‘The Artifact’ , but in reality, it’s something I’ve never seen before – and had no business being buried in the ground. It is about two feet long, roughly cylindrical, and hinged in the middle. It has a series of metallic rods over a honeycombed framework, and despite it being bent and warped, is still very shiny – and strong. But it gets stranger; using a power bit driver, I removed the screws that I could see, and in the honeycomb was a series of hydraulic systems, a computer node, and a power supply. The power supply was long since dead. From the looks of it, it seems to be part of an automated probe, possibly from some sort of government project. Yet the circuitry was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It looks like that there should be something attached to the computer node – there’s an indentation and some metal clips that would hold it in place. I managed to dig it out and stash it in my toolbox. I went back to where I found it, and dug around some more – and that’s when I found the bones. I told the crew supervisor, who then called in all sorts of people to dig out the remains and identify them. They were so busy with those bones that no one noticed that I left with a souvenir.”

Artifact? Bones? At the dig site? But that was one hundred and twenty feet into the base of a mountain!
She scanned through the log entries until she found another interesting reference to the Artifact. Strangely enough, she saw no further references to the bones that were discovered.

[Log entry 2003-04-21-2]
“This is my first day in my new office at the Aperture Science Research Facility. I have all the greatest electronic toys, a kick-ass computer system, and my own workbench area to run my own tests. The rest of the facility is just about finished, and within a few weeks, we will be running all sorts of new projects – my projects. I brought the Artifact here, disguised as a home-made lamp that I claimed someone gave me as a birthday present. Hey, the best way to hide something is to leave it in plain sight, right? This way, I can poke around on it some more with all my new lab equipment – and if I leave it out, no one will care. They think I’m just fixing my lamp!”

[Log entry 2003-04-30-2]
“OhshitOhshitOhshitOhshitOhshit! I don’t know if this is good or bad, but something really strange happened today. I was testing a portal gun in my office – one portal on one wall, the other on the opposite. Simple enough test. I set the first portal, no problem. I aimed the gun to set the second portal, and fired. It first opened up as expected – but it happened to be very close to the desk where the Artifact was sitting. A moment later, some blue sparks and an energy burst erupted from the portal and hit the Artifact, knocking it down. The second portal then shimmered, and disappeared. I tried to regenerate it, but the gun reported that it was still active. I put the gun down on the table, and picked up my lamp. I had no idea what just happened. Sitting back down at my computer, I reviewed the sensor and monitor logs to see what could be the cause of this phenomenon. A few minutes later, I was startled to see the second portal reappear at the previous position – but it wasn’t clear. The interface looked murky, like muddied water. I looked deeper into it, and saw myself through the other portal – but I was holding the gun and staring at the fallen lamp! I was looking into the past! Then I turned around to face the first portal – it was also murky; and when I looked into that, I saw myself at the computer, and Storm was in my office chatting at me. But he wasn’t here yet? So, I did go back to the computer to trace the incident, and about 3 minutes later, Storm strolled in and started to chat. I didn’t tell him I knew he was coming, and I didn’t say anything about the temporal anomaly in the portal”

Byte continued reading late into the night, trying to summarize all of the events that transpired after that day:

“…Artifact metal created fluctuations in portal containment field…trying to compensate by adjusting parameters that usually remain constant…analyzed sensor readings to discover correlations between energy flow, harmonic frequencies and final portal placement…invented a bolt-on module to shift the target portal by up to an hour in the future or the past…figured out how to extend the range between portals to over 30 miles…discovered a way to create endpoint second portal via first portal – don’t need to set it manually, just program the x,y,z and temporal coordinates…used new amplification circuits to extend portal diameter to 8 meters…all of this in a span of 9 months…”

It was well past 02:00 when Byte started to nod off after reading so many pages of the journal. “In less than a year, my counterpart, with the help of this artifact he found, became the driving force in turning the Portal gun into something far more powerful – and far more dangerous.”, she murmured to herself. “I can’t keep my eyes open – time for shut-eye.” She lit a small lantern and then powered off the generator to conserve fuel, and gratefully fell asleep moments later.

[Beta – the next morning]

Byte woke up in the dark. Her chronometer glowed 09:30, but the room was pitch black. Then she remembered that she was in the bunker, and the lantern must have run out of oil. She found her flashlight, turned it on, and then headed over to the door. Listening carefully, she opened it up slowly – but nothing was out there to trouble her. Sunlight was streaming in through the hole above her head, and it already felt quite warm. She grabbed her pack, her pistols and the journal, and after closing the door behind her, headed back up and out of the church. Her goal today – find where the lab was, and get more answers.

She walked down the far side of the hill, away from the church and the graveyard, and headed back in the general direction of where the barracks used to be. It was already getting hot, and a stale breeze blew the dust around in small whirlwinds. Nothing stirred – just like yesterday, no animals, no noises. The few trees that she could see were dead and bare, and the feeling of utter desolation surrounded her like a funeral shroud. After about an hour of walking and finding nothing remarkable, she plopped down under a nearby tree to scarf down some rations and water. The tree didn’t do too much for shade, but at least she could rest her back on the trunk.

Something moving further down the path caught her eye. “Tumbleweed?”, she thought, and continued to stare. Whatever it was, it was getting closer. She stood up, and slowly worked around the tree, hoping it would hide her from what was coming. Then she heard a noise – a whistling noise. It had some sort of rhythm to it. She looked again, and froze…

…someone was walking towards her, whistling a tune!

Whoever it was hadn’t seen her yet, and continued walking closer without a care in the world. She slowly put her pack down, and readied her pistol – this wandering fool may not be so friendly when they realize they’re not alone. As she waited for her visitor to come close enough to identify, it finally dawned on her the tune she heard – it was the “Aperture Science” song from the Portal! “Jeez, first I read about it – now I’m listening to it”, she muttered to herself, and shifted a little to get a better view while keeping herself as hidden as possible.

But that little movement reflected the sun directly at the stranger, just enough to get their attention. The stranger stopped walking and whistling, and looked in the direction of the tree. In a flash, a large-caliber pistol was aimed at the tree, and a very masculine voice bellowed,” I know you’re hiding behind that tree. Come out slowly with your hands up, or I’ll kill you in a heartbeat!”

Byte was never one to back down, and she slowly walked around the tree, her pistol aimed directly at her accuser. The face looked familiar – older, but definitely someone she knew. But he broke the silence first:

“Slinger?, I thought you were dead!”. He recognized the male body that Byte was inhabiting.
Byte smiled, but didn’t lower her weapon. “They say the same about you, Phantom!”

Phantom lowered his weapon and put it back in the holster. Byte did the same. She had to be careful as to what she said and what she knew in the conversation that would follow.

They walked towards each other, and shook hands, but kept their distance. Phantom continued, “I haven’t seen you in five years – I figured you either got that damn portal working and disappeared, or you died somewhere along the way. But you did promise that if you got it to work, you’d come back for me. So, is it working? When do we leave?”

Byte had to think for a moment, and then she began to spin her tale, ”Has it been five years? Damn, I knew the temporal parameters were off a bit, but I didn’t think that much. I got the damn thing to work, and went through it to test it, but on the way back, it became unstable. After I stepped through completely, it shut down by itself. I’m back here now, but five years later. So I have some fine tuning to do before we can use it to..”

Before she could finish the sentence, Phantom had his pistol up and pointed right between her eyes. His face darkened, and he said one word: “Liar.”, and she watched him slowly pull the trigger back. “You can’t be here – you died before you finished the portal! I found your body at the church – a scorpion skewered you!”

“You’re right – I am dead there. But here, I am alive. I came through a portal from the past, and wound up in this shit-hole of a future. I found my dead body, too, and realized that whatever I was trying to do, I died before it was done. But somehow, through another temporal accident, I’m here again – to finish what I started.”

Phantom looked at Byte, paused a moment, then lowered his firearm. “Now, that’s more like it. Don’t lie to me again. If I can’t trust you, then I don’t need you to be around. Do we understand each other?”

“Okay. From now on, any question you ask me will be answered honestly”, she replied.

“Is that a fact?”, he growled, and squinted at her face, “Then tell me who you really are - because the Slinger I know is left handed, and you drew on me with your right!”

Byte shook her head slowly and said, “well, you’d better sit down – this is going to take a while…”


Krev was worried – she lost all communication to everyone except Byte, who should have been subdued by now. She checked the activity monitor on Byte’s arm, and realized that she had uploaded gigabytes of information from the portal, and had turned off the power to the entire cavern. It didn’t feel right – the rest of the rescue team was in trouble.

A-Wahl came back into the room, with Fro, Aldlv and Ismael92 following right behind. They were the senior members still present at the barracks, and they wanted answers. “What the hell happened to our rescue team?”, demanded Fro.

“All communication has been lost, except for Byte, and we feel that she’s been compromised, and no longer on our side”, Krev answered quickly, but uncertain as to how to explain it further.

“Compromised?”, asked Aldlv. “Explain that to me – how did one of our Supreme Commanders get compromised?”

“It was an energy blast from the portal”, added A-Wahl, “It knocked out Byte, and when she came to, she wasn’t herself.”

“Her brains got fried – those damn implants shorted out and took her head with it!”, spat Fro.

“No, it’s something else “, offered Krev, “The brain patterns are completely altered – like a whole different person is inside her head now. She was first violent and confused, and then later she calmed down a bit. But it’s not her.”

“Then who the hell is it?”, Ismael demanded, “who’s inside our cyborg?”

The room was quiet for a moment, and Aldlv spoke,” It doesn’t matter. We need to check this out, and see if our friends need help – or if we need to secure Byte ourselves. Fro, I want you to muster up another team – besides all of us present, get me Phantomlassuk, Cariboo, RohanTheBarbarian, and anyone else who’s not in the infirmary. I want a dozen Guards ready to go within half an hour, fully geared and ready for any medical emergency – or for war. Dismissed!”

Everyone hurried out of the room except for Krev and Fro. Fro looked at her, and asked “Is there any way to remotely shut down those implants?”

“No. I can only monitor them”, Krev replied

“Then how do we disable them?”

“I wouldn’t worry about the implants – I’d worry about the mind controlling them.”, Krev answered

“I know how to disable that”, sneered Fro

“How?”, asked Krev, somewhat confused.

Fro answered with a single word: “Headshot.”

[End of Chapter 7]


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Post Thu Jun 17, 2010 10:49 pm

Re: Through a Mirror Darkly - Chapter by Chapter

“Through a Mirror Darkly”

Chapter 8


Originally posted on October 6th, 2009


Phantom growled back at the loudspeaker, “Fuck you and all that look like you! Show yourself, and you’ll see just what kind of game we can play!”

“Easy, Phantom”, EagleRock spoke quietly. “If you get worked up, you’ll just play into their hands. We have to stay calm. Right now, we are all here, and we’re all alive. If we stay together, and don’t let the fuckers separate us, we have a good chance of getting the hell out of here in one piece…”

His sentence was interrupted by the massive steel door being thrown open, almost off its hinges. They all turned to face the intrusion – and was met by the blinding whiteness of a flashbang! A very familiar voice bellowed after the noise, ”You stupid shits all better freeze, or you’ll be dead before you hit the floor!”

A few moments later, after the effects of the flashbang wore off, 26 pairs of eyes focused on three very large, well armored and heavily armed soldiers standing in the room. Very large – and very familiar.

Phantom looked into the face of the leader – and realized that it was his own. The leader’s name was Ghost; he had a scruffy beard, scars on his face, and eyes that bore into the depths of your soul. This man did not know fear, and the only life he valued was his own.

Flanking Ghost’s left was another familiar face. This one was also rugged and scarred; his right hand was missing the pinky and the ring finger, and he definitely had Latino or Hispanic ancestry. His name was Aldo.

And on Ghost’s right was a third familiar face. It was almost boyish and clean-cut – but his eyes weren’t as dark and vacant as the other two gargoyles that blocked the only exit from the room. He stood grimly in place, one step behind Ghost. His name was “Cooper”, and he had drawn a pair of German 9mm Lugers, one in each hand. Oddly enough, they had silencers on them.

Ghost spoke, “Wade sent me to collect the first bunch of you maggots for the game. If you try to fight me, you will die now. If you come along without fighting, you’ll probably die in the game later. It all depends on you – how do you want to die today?”

Phantom’s eyes narrowed, and through gritted teeth, hissed at Ghost ,”Cowards! All of you are rat-bastard cowards! None of you have the balls to face us one-on-one, with even weapons in a fair fight! You have no honor, and there is no glory to your victory…”

Ghost cut off Phantom’s tirade with a quick backhand to the face, “Oh, cry me a river! Who said life was fair? Life is what you take from it. The weak die, and the strong live, period. That’s the way of the world! And right now we are the strong, and you are the weak. So shut the fuck up while I pick the first bunch of losers.”

“Don’t take the best, Ghost – leave them for the big finish!”, added Aldo.

“Yeah, you’re right – let’s keep this interesting”, he sneered.

Aldo and Ghost took two steps forward, but they didn’t see Cooper hold his position at the doorway. They also didn’t see him raise both of his guns straight out and leveled at the back of their heads…

Twin barrel flashes and two barely audible hisses got Phantom’s attention, but not so much as seeing the two men’s faces blown apart from the inside. Blood spattered all over Phantom, the bunks, the floor – and the bodies fell to the ground with a quiet thud.

Cooper looked at Phantom, lowered his weapons, and then spoke quietly but urgently, “You don’t have much time. I jammed the main hall door outside, but the maintenance access doors still work. The other guards will be here soon. I can get you back to the Portal – but you’ll need to move fast.”

“What the hell is all this about?!”, Coop asked of his doppelganger, “How can we trust you when you just killed off two of your own men?”

“You can’t – but I did it because it needed to be done. You don’t belong here – none of you do. And quite frankly, neither do I. But I’ll tell you that along the way. Grab those security access cards from around their necks…”

As EagleRock and Phantom began pulling the access cards from the lanyards of the dead soldiers. Cooper added, ”You’ll need a hand with those.”

“No, we got’em!”, and the cards popped off with a snap.

“That’s not what I mean”, Cooper added, and pulled out a very sharp and serrated Bowie knife. EagleRock looked puzzled, until he saw Cooper quickly hacking off Ghost’s right hand. “Get the Aldo’s right hand, too! “, he barked, and Phantom was more than happy to do a little bit of surgery to the still-warm corpse.

Cooper looked up and answered all of the puzzled stares, ”the security system requires both an access card and a full palm scan to open the maintenance doors and override any lockouts. This is the only way you can get back to the Portal hallway, because all doors are now under general lockdown. Now, all of you, grab your shit – we’re moving out NOW!”

Cooper ran out the door, with Phantom and the others filing out behind him. EagleRock was the last to leave, as he was grabbing ammo and grenades off the mutilated bodies. “See you in Hell!”, he cursed, and ran to catch up with the crew.

They all ran down the hall, to the first maintenance door. Phantom used Ghost’s card and hand on the door lock. The security light turned from red to green, and a computer voice chimed, “access granted to Supreme Commander Ghost”. The door clicked open, and all 27 men ran through like the hounds of Hell were on their collective asses. Some of them wished it was only Hellhounds, and not an entire Barracks trying to kill them just for the fuck of it.

They were in a long, winding corridor, with many secondary access doors leading to parts unknown. These were all ignored, as Cooper lead the party deeper through the maze. As they ran, he told them his story – the quick version anyway, “I told you that I don’t belong here, and that’s the truth. I was taken from my barracks, along with a bunch of my fellow Guardsman, to play these same games as you. Early in the games, we kept losing – and dying. Wade came to me and made me an offer – if I swore an oath that I would be loyal to him, he would spare the lives of the remaining guards. I figured I was dead anyway, so I took the offer, hoping that my friends would be sent back home. Wade kept his side of the bargain - he did spare their lives – and sent them all to work in the copper mines. I was busted down to Private, and was told that I would either join them and climb their ranks – or be shot if I showed any sign of treachery. That was 7 years ago. I always knew inside if I had the chance to take them down, I would grab it in a heartbeat. Today is that day. Today, I take my revenge for all of my fallen friends who died needlessly at the hands of this madman”.

They reached the end of a hall, where it turned into a T-intersection. They took the left fork, and as they ran, they could hear the sounds of humming and electronics getting closer. “Third door on the left – that’s the portal room. We need to do a little recon when we get there – discretion is the better part of valor.”

Coop stopped short, and asked, “are there any other maintenance doors to the portal room, or just this one?”

“There is one more, around the corner. It will bring you out near the main corridor – but if you go out there, you’ll be spotted immediately”, his alter ego replied.

“Wait, I see where you’re going with this!”, EagleRock added. “We split up into two teams, one for each doorway. If we hit them from two different directions at once, they’ll be caught in the middle with no escape!”

“Yeah, but we have to watch for friendly cross-fire”, said Phantom

“Actually, the second maintenance entrance is around a corner”, interrupted Cooper,” you won’t be shooting at eachother, but you will have them pinned down. But whatever you do, do it quick! Once you all pass through those maintenance doors, I’m going to force a level 5 lockdown on ALL the doors. This will give you time to dispatch the pricks by the portal – but also lock you in. Your only escape is the portal, so you may want to NOT kill the operator. It’s going to be tricky – I figure after about 20 minutes, Wade will have completed a system security override, and all those doors will be open. You’d better be gone by then, or I am certain your deaths will be long and painful. Now, get your asses moving!”

“You twelve come with me”, commanded EagleRock, gesturing at the closest dozen guards. “We will attack through this door, closest to the portal. Phantom, take the rest to the alternate door. Wait for us to begin firing, then do a quick recon in the hallway before you all attack, just so we don’t clobber eachother.”

Cooper gave Ghost’s hand to EagleRock, along with the matching keycard; Phantom still had Aldo’s hand and card in his jacket pocket. “Via con dios!”, joked Cooper, “I’m going to camp out in the ducts and see if I can thin out the crowds before they get to you guys.”, and he disappeared into the maze of maintenance corridors.

“See you in warzone!”, Phantom barked as he saluted EagleRock. EagleRock returned the salute quickly, and Phantom was off to the other door. Eagle glanced at his crew; they all nodded their readiness in return. He placed Ghost’s hand on the sensor, and swiped the access card. The lock light turned from red to green, and the semi-feminine computer voice cheerfully announced “security access granted, Supreme Commander Ghost” as the door slid open…


It took ByteSlinger the better part of two hours to explain the whole story to Phantom. Byte shared some rations with Phantom as she spoke, but Phantom never said a word the entire time – not even to thank Byte for the food. But he never took his eyes off Byte’s face, and watched every gesture like a hawk watches a mouse in a field.

“…and that’s how I wound up here talking to you”, Byte finished, and looked in Phantom’s eyes, waiting for a response.

Phantom turned his head away, and Byte could see that he was deep in thought. It seemed like an eternity before he returned his gaze back to Byte.

“You know”, he began, “that story was way too strange to be a lie. You can’t make shit like that up. But you’re here, and everything you said – and God help me for saying this – actually all fits together.”

“Well, quite frankly, as I was telling you it, I was thinking to myself ‘he’s never going to believe this – Hell, I don’t even believe it!’. What makes you believe me, despite my monologue?”, Byte asked.

“Because there are pieces to this puzzle you don’t have yet, but what you do have fits in the picture of reality that I know. And what I do know is this: the body of the man who is responsible for the eradication of the EGB is sitting in front of me, fresh from twelve years in the past – and inside him, is the soul of an alter ego from a different parallel universe who not only had nothing to do with this future – it’s also a woman’s soul.”

He paused for a moment, chuckled, and then added “And yet, it’s true. I do believe you, and I think I know why you are here.”

“You mean besides a portal accident?”, Byte asked

There are no such things as accidents”, retorted Phantom,” it is just fate renamed. A quote from Napolean Bonaparte.”

“Oh.”, replied Byte. “I thought you were quoting ‘Master Sheefu’ from ‘Kung-Fu Panda’”

Phantom looked very confused. “Oh, never mind.”, continued Byte. “Now, as for the rest of the pieces of this puzzle – care to enlighten me?”

“Oh, I will. But I want you to understand why you were brought here first”

“And why would that be, if it wasn’t an accident?”, Byte asked impatiently.

“Because you are here to undo what has been done, and to restore what has been destroyed.”, Phantom said, and stood up. Byte followed his lead, and stood up as well, gathering her backpack.

“That’s all well and good, but last time I looked, I’m trapped in this shit-hole of a future with you and another crazy ex-EGB, watching whatever is left for sanity burn away in the desert sun. How am I going to fix anything? There’s no way back – there are no functioning portals! I’ve only seen bits and pieces of some project that my counterpart worked on in his spare time. I’m at the same dead end as all of you!”, Byte rattled out, exasperated.

Phantom smiled an impish little smile. “Come with me, back to my place now. Besides the fact that it will be dark soon, I think you’ll be very interested in a few toys that I have. But don’t bug me about it now – I want it to be a surprise.”

“Ok, it’s your show now”, Byte replied, and wordlessly followed Phantom back from the direction he came. They walked for about twenty minutes, and then came to the base of a large cliff. In the cliff was a steel door with locks on the outside. Phantom unlocked the locks, and opened the door into a long tunnel, well lit by kerosene torches. Byte went in first, and then she heard Phantom follow her – locking the doors from the inside.

The tunnel sloped gently downward; the handrails on the wall were some sort of expensive wood, held together with tarnished silver fittings. The carpet on the floor would have been nice if it wasn’t so threadbare. The kerosene torches that lit the way were wired up with cord to the old, electric light fixtures that just would never work again.

When they reached the end of the tunnel, there was another large, metallic door – much heavier than the first. It looked like at one time that there was an electronic lock on the door, but it had been long-since removed. Instead, there was a large section of heavy anchor chain that was held fast by a series of welds to the door itself. Phantom dug out his key ring, and found the keys to the locks – it required two keys to open.

As Phantom pulled the door open, Byte could see parts of a worn sign on the wall:


“Welcome to my place. Hope you don’t mind – I’m using your old office as my room now…”, he commented, and gently pushed Byte through the open door…


Fro walked out of Krev’s office and back to his quarters. He picked up his wall phone, and dialed up the number to give him a full barracks-wide page: “Attention all capable personnel: You will assemble in the courtyard immediately, as per our Supreme Commander’s orders. Don’t make me come looking for you. Fro out”. He then picked up his gear, his rifle and his pistol, his riot helmet, grenades, and anything else that would give him more firepower (and maybe make him look more bad-ass in the process) and headed to the courtyard himself.

By the time he arrived, all capable personnel were standing at parade rest in their designated areas, waiting for him to take front and center. He put down his pack, walked to front and center, turned sharply, and gave a crisp salute, “At ease, soldiers” – and they all loosened up a little bit.

“We are putting together a second rescue mission to get the rest of our senior command staff back to the Barracks. The first mission has been incommunicado now for about 15 minutes – we don’t know if anyone is still alive or not. We do know that ByteSlinger seems to have taken a serious jolt, and is behaving rashly and violently. She may have been compromised, so treat her as a “must capture alive” POW. I want to see two fully ready transport trucks, my command jeep, the medi-vac van and a Warthog here in this courtyard in 15 minutes. The following personnel are to be ready to leave for this mission in 15 minutes as well – the rest of you get those damn vehicles ready NOW! If I call your name, go to your quarters immediately and prepare for war, with the strong possibility for the need of field medical services: Ismael, Aldlv, Phantomlassuk, Cariboo, RohanTheBarbarian, Idiot-Finder, LittleRena and PerfectInsanity. As they heard their names, they saluted and broke ranks, heading directly back the their quarters as ordered.

* * *
15 minutes later, all designated personnel were loading their gear on the transports. Rohan and Idiot-Finder each drove a transport; Cariboo drove the medical van, Ismael and Aldlv were on the Warthog, and Fro drove the scout jeep. The rest secured themselves in the back of the transports. Just before Aldlv gave the order to get underway, the radio crackled to life. It was Krev, calling from the communication center. “Sorry for the interruption, but something just happened that you may find important. Remember that I told you that we lost communications with Phantom’s PDA a while ago? Well, I’m picking up the homing beacon again – and it’s getting slowly stronger. I think Phantom and the rest of the crew are heading towards their portal – this could mean that they found a way home.”

“That is interesting news, but we can’t have conjecture on what it means now. I’ll take it as a positive fact, but I’ll reserve judgment until we get back to the cavern and get all the facts.”, replied Aldlv, and then, after a brief pause, announced “Troops, roll out!”

The main gate to the courtyard swung open to an uncertain future, but it was the only path they could follow – for now.

[End of Chapter 8]


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Master of the Portal
Master of the Portal

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Post Thu Jun 17, 2010 10:49 pm

Re: Through a Mirror Darkly - Chapter by Chapter

“Through a Mirror Darkly”

Chapter 9

“Nothing Is Easy”

Originally posted on October 12th, 2009


Byte stepped into the main door of the run-down Aperture Science lab. A few bare bulbs strung from the ceiling illuminated dusty tables covered in piles of papers and notes. It smelled like a mausoleum, which was quite fitting because everything in this building was long dead – everything but the two soldiers standing in an uneasy quiet.

“So, what do you think?”, Phantom asked, thinking that Byte would be happy to see this place.

Byte stood for a moment, and looked around some more, then smiled, and with hands on hips said in the gayest way possible, ”Oh, those curtains are just dreadful! They just have to go! And look at this rug – if it was any dirtier, you could grow corn on it! And those walls – oh, neutral colors are just so 1990’s! But first, this place needs a severe cleaning!”

Holding an imaginary phone to her head, Byte continued, ”Bruce? Yes Bruce, this is Byte! We have a code pink! Send over six of our cutest scrubbers and tell them they need to all use the OxyClean blaster cannons. Make sure they all have long hoses – and, oh yeah, long hoses on the cannons as well! This place needs to be cleaned from top to bottom, and you know I’ll have to supervise them as they go up and down and…oh, sorry, dearie, I got such an image in my head! Gotta run! Some big army-type guy is looking at me like I’ve completely lost my mind, and doesn’t know if he should laugh at me or shoot me. Talk to you later! Toodles”, and then hangs up the imaginary phone.

Phantom looked at Byte, and shook his head, and slowly reached for his gun.

“Hey, I was just kidding! Come on, what did you want me to say? That where you live is a complete dump, and that maybe you could have dusted once in a while? Geez, and you didn’t even make any fresh coffee! At least EagleRock had an espresso machine!”

Phantom then did something he hadn’t done in countless years: he began to laugh. Low at first, and then it seemed the more he thought about it, the more he laughed. And he kept on laughing, until he was literally rolling on the ground.

Byte was worried. “Oh, shit, he’s finally snapped.”, she thought, “Being here for so long put him on the edge, and leave it to me to screw around and push him off. I hope I don’t have to shoot him.”

Phantom sat up on the floor, looked up at Byte, and calmed down enough to talk. “Thank you.”, he said, puzzling Byte.

“Uh, sure – but why?”, Byte stammered, and looked for someplace to dive in case he drew his gun.

“For years, I have been alone. You died five years ago – well, at least one of you did – and I haven’t spoken to a single soul since. And I haven’t laughed, or had any reason to have hope. But I refused to die – and I refused to live, too. I felt this was my punishment for all of my wrongs I had done.”

“But EagleRock is here – why didn’t you go stay with him?”, Byte asked.

“Ah, that’s a good question. When you were with EagleRock, what did he say about Coop83?”

“That he died in a rockslide. Oh, and that a few months later, you went crazy and disappeared.”, Byte added.

“Well, that’s only part of the truth. And since you were honest with me, let me tell you what really happened these past twelve years…”

Byte listened to Phantom as he started reminiscing from just after the time the nukes leveled the EGB and the better part of Newgrounds: “At first, all three of us stayed in the shelter. We couldn’t believe that you had sent the nukes to destroy everything, but with your vendetta against the EGB and the NewGrounds oligarchy, well, anything was possible.”

“Vendetta? What vendetta?”

“Oh, you haven’t gotten to those chapters in that book yet, huh? Well, let me summarize it for you. Genius discovers way to make portal bounce through time as well as space, and also extends the range between portals to hundreds of miles, with an opening up to 10 meters. Genius is so proud, until he discovers that his boss is getting kickbacks from the military, and in return anything that can be used as a weapon becomes one. But it’s too late – genius comes to work one day to discover the entire project, and all his notes and all his computers, confiscated by the government. They now have their weapon, and don’t need him anymore. They tell him that he has three choices: a slow death, join the EGB as a private, or a slower death. The EGB at the time was becoming a dumping ground for all the misfits in NewGrounds – it was a way of not only teaching miscreants discipline, but it also made the government’s army bigger and stronger. It was nothing more than a glorified minimum-security prison where everyone played soldier – but no one knew that yet. Anyway, Genius chooses the EGB over death, but vows that one day he will get back at Storm and his government buddy, only known by the name of ‘Tim’, for ruining his life”.

“Storm? As in SlashFirestorm?”, asked Byte.

“Yes…and no. Storm is the guy here who runs the military weapons development. Your SlashFirestorm is a completely different person from a different place altogether. SlashFirestorm was always one of the good guys – a little naïve at times, but always had a good heart. Storm, on the other hand, has always been a two-face prick who manipulates everything to his own desires, and doesn’t care about anyone but himself.”

“Hey, wait… how do you know about MY SlashFirestorm? I never told you about him.”, Byte was getting seriously confused.

After a long pause, Phantom answered quietly, “because SlashFirestorm was also MY friend and MY commander”

“What? How?”, Byte was stammering now, “How could that be?”

“There’s a simple answer to that. About 13 years ago, Tom called an off-site meeting to discuss the issues we’ve been having with all the portal attacks. It was a trap, and we were all captured here, in this parallel world. A few days later, we attempted an escape, and our comrades back in OUR EGB were executing another rescue mission. The good news is that most of them made it back. But four of us didn’t. EagleRock, Coop and myself were stranded here, and managed to escape the complex and get away before everything became a nuclear slag heap. Idiot-Finder disappeared between dimensions, and hasn’t been heard from since. All we knew is that it was rumored that you were responsible for the nukes, and for that, we all hated you.”

“So, you guys are just as lost as I am!”, Byte added,” and we’re all trying to get back to the same place!”

“Well, actually, you’re more lost – you’ve in the wrong body, and right now, in some time in some place, there is a raving psychopath in yours. We’re just misplaced – you’re royally fucked!”, and he chuckled a little.

“So, how do you know the history of this place, when you’re not from here?”, Byte asked, hoping to fill in a few plot holes.

“Our benefactor and rescuer, who happens to be Coop83's counterpart and goes by the name ‘Cooper’, filled me in. It took some time to realize that we had traveled not only through space, but through dimensions, and keeping track of who’s who was a nightmare.”

“Oh…I see. Now, finish your thought from before – you three guys were close friends. What really happened with Coop?”

“He died in a rockslide – when I pushed him down the side of the mountain six years ago”, Phantom said, sullenly.

“Pushed him? What did he do to you?”

“It’s not what he did – it was what he was going to do. He was going to tell EagleRock that the man who decimated the EGB and destroyed all possibility of ever getting home was still alive. And then EagleRock could have his revenge and kill you on your own. He was going to give YOU up for the slaughter – and I had to stop him.”

“Er, go on…this sounds really confusing – keep explaining”, Byte mumbled.

“You were very close to recreating the portal, and to find a way for us to get home. It was our secret. I found you two years before that, living in this very office. You had escaped before the bombs went off – which meant you didn’t send them. You were set up – by Tom and the moderators and the NewGrounds government. You were the fall guy to take the blame for the bombings – which was a cover-up for their own plot. I didn’t tell anyone, and I only met with you once in a while to check in on you. Coop found this place while you were still alive, but fortunately, you were out grabbing parts from the other lab. We moved you to the bunker under the church, where you continued your work. I didn’t tell a soul that you were alive, and trying to find us all a way home. I couldn’t get their hopes up, because if you failed, it would be worse than never trying at all. I didn’t mean to kill Coop – we had a pushing match, and he fell backwards into loose dirt – and kept going. All I wanted to do was protect my friends – and I wound up killing one and running away from the other.”

Then Phantom was silent. He had said all he needed to say.

“I’m sorry, Phantom. I wish there was something I could do”, Byte offered

“There is”, he answered flatly, “finish the portal, and go back and stop all of this from happening. I’m not sure how or where or when – that’s beyond me. But I do know this: you are the only one alive here and now that can make it happen.”

“That’s easy for you to say. What do I know about portals? And if I do get one up and running – AND get back through the timeline to patch things up, will that make Coop come back to life, and all of you will be friends here once more?”, Byte said, somewhat sarcastically.

“No…”, Phantom replied. “If you are successful, none of us will be here to even have this conversation. We’ll all be back where we belong.”

Byte sat down on a dusty chair, and said “But it could take months – years – before I figure out these notes and even begin to mess with the portal. So much could happen in that time”, he bemoaned.

“It doesn’t matter. Take all the time you need – the great thing about a point in “the past” is that it’s always there. Unless you meet a premature demise – and that’s what I’m trying to avoid – I have no doubt you’ll figure the portal out, sooner or later. When you do, you’ll have to just figure out how far back to go, and what critical event can be changed so that this is no longer our destiny. But I’m impatient – so, hurry up and get started already!”

Byte picked up the journal again, and began to read. This was going to take a while…


EagleRock tossed the flash-bang into the corridor, and in seconds, his squad was in the hallway, all weapons drawn, and ready for anything. “Every down on the floor NOW!”, he bellowed, and everyone in the hallway fell to the floor. Everyone, except a well-endowed woman who seemed not to have noticed the grand entrance they just made.

IB stood at the portal console, and with a single stroke, clicked one last button – and as Phantom’s squad rounded the corner, the hallway went completely dark, and alarm bells went off.

“Everyone, go to night-vision NOW – we don’t want casualties from friendly fire!”, EagleRock commanded – but it was unnecessary. Years of combat training kicked into gear the moment the light disappeared, and by the time his words had finished echoing in the hallway, everyone had their goggles on already.

They saw IB crouching low besides a file cabinet, trying to use it as cover. She was trapped and outnumbered, and didn’t have a prayer of surviving unless she gave up. “We can do this the easy way, or we can do it the hard way”, commanded Phantom from the other end of the hallway. “Crawl out to the floor, and stay face down – don’t make any sudden moves. We just want to go back home, and if you help us, you will live. Otherwise – well, let’s just say I’m in a real pissy mood about all this kidnapping shit, and it would just make my day to take someone out right about now. You have until the count of 5, and then I shoot…1…2…”

What they all didn’t know was that everything they were doing and saying was being transmitted to not only the complex’s main security room, but to the other side of the portal – where Slinger heard every word.


Slinger heard the emergency alarms go off from the console, and immediately ran over to see what was going wrong. He watched in earnest as he saw the previously-captured EGB crews attempting their escape – and from the looks of it, they were going to make it. “If I shut the portal down now, I’ll have to recalibrate it later – and I won’t know when to try again, especially if the shoot up the console on the other side.”, he thought to himself. “Oh, yeah, let’s not forget that there’s another bunch of goody two-shoes on their way here to try to rescue the idiots we grabbed. Talk about being in between a rock and a hard place.”

Slinger pondered his options, and realized that his only chance of getting back home in one piece was to let those bumbling fools escape. But he’d have to hide and lay low until they left the cavern, and then jump back when the coast was clear. He looked around, and move a few crates to uncover an access panel to an electrical junction closet. It was big enough for him to sit down in, and with the lights off, stay hidden for a while.

He went back to the portal console, keyed into the remote portal communications, and made one terse but official-sounding page over the PA system: “Let them go.”. He then logged off the console, leaving the portal up, and ran back to his hiding place. After repositioning the crates to obscure the view of the access panel, he slid in quietly, and waited for the party to start…


Everyone looked up when they heard the announcement over the loudspeakers “Let them go”. IB moved forward slowly, and lay flat on the floor as instructed. She said quietly, ”Go ahead and go – I’m not going to stop you now”.

“Yeah, but how about bringing the lights back on first?”, asked EagleRock – and a moment later, the hallway lights came back up. “Voice activated?”, he added

“No, just had to find the wall switch!”, answered SlashFirestorm, ”Now, you, stand up, and face me – move slowly!”. IB complied, and looked directly at SlashFirestorm. Slash did a doubletake – the face was familiar, but that body – well, he’d never forget those curves. It looked like her uniform was painted on, and for a moment, it derailed his train of thought.

“Ahem”, she said,” my eyes are UP HERE! Now, what I can do to – er, for you guys?”

“Make sure that portal is set up to let us back home, and stay out of the way!”, demanded Phantom

“Oh, you mean back to that dreadful cavern with all of your other buddies? It’s already connected. You can go through whenever you want…but…”, she trailed off, mysteriously

“BUT WHAT?!?!?”, screamed Phantom, who was starting to lose his temper, and he aimed his rifle at her head.

“Easy now, boys. You can use the portal, but no more than two at a time, and you should wait at least 30 seconds between pairs. This thing isn’t stable, and if it has to handle too much mass, it could break free from the other side – and then we’ll have NO idea where the hell you’ll wind up!”, and she smiled, oh so innocently.

EagleRock spoke quickly, “Okay, men, two by two – you heard the lady. Phantom, keep point on that end of the hallway. Coop, watch our backs here. I’ll supervise the portal exit – we’ll be the last ones out!”

Phantom and Coop took their places. The security doors were still locked down from Cooper’s little surprise, but they could hear orders being barked and boots clomping around – they were trying to figure out how to get in here.

“Better keep it going – looks like we could have company soon!”, Coop announced.

PossiblePancakes and Sentio were the first through the portal, and Eagle Rock looked down at his watch. We have to hold them off for seven more minutes. Next two, get ready!”

Every thirty seconds passed like an eternity – but slowly, two by two, the hallway emptied.


PossiblePancakes and Sentio stumbled out of the portal and into the dimly lit cavern. “This place looks familiar”, Sentio said out loud.

“Yeah, but what the hell happened to these guys?”, PossiblePancakes asked, and pointed to the bodies on the floor. They walked over to the jeep, where they found Lizzardis first. “His neck was crushed to dust –who the hell did this?”

The sound of the portal crackling to life made them both jump and turn at the same time. BlueHippo and Major-Punk landed perfect face-plants as they fell out of the portal. They both recovered quickly, and stood up. “Four down – a shitload more to go!”, Major-Punk commented.

“Yeah, every 30 seconds we’ll get to see the show, unless this thing breaks down”, Sentio responded. “Now, get your asses out of the way, and help us ID these poor bastards. Most of them were shot – some at point-blank range.”

BlueHippo looked around, and grimly noted, ”They must have known their attacker – and even trusted them. Somebody turned bad, and killed these guys off-guard. There is no other explanation – these men were all part of the Elite Guard. Nobody gets the drop on them – unless it was someone who betrayed them.”

As BlueHippo finished, they all heard a rumbling noise coming from the tunnel. Some sort of vehicle was approaching – and not too quietly.

They all saw, for a moment, an EGB-modified Warthog come tear-assing into the cavern – and then like fireworks, several flash-bangs whitened the landscape. They all instinctively fell down and took cover on the floor. Then they heard a familiar voice over the Warthog’s megaphone: “This is Supreme Commander Aldlv. Everyone stay face down and don’t move. We will come to you. If you move, we will shoot. And I know Ismael92 here loves to use the chain gun on this thing, so don’t give him a reason to ventilate your sorry asses!”

The portal crackled again, and this time TurkeyBean and Andrea364 bumbled out like two drunks being thrown out of a bar at 4AM. Aldlv recognized Andrea immediately, ”Hold your fire! These are friendlies!”

Behind them, Fro rolled up in the Jeep, and Rohan and Idiot-Finder pulled the transports in close, and let the rest of the squads jump out. Cariboo drove the medical van past them all, parked it in the middle of the cavern, and jumped out to see if she could help any of the victims.

Sentio stood up slowly, and addressed the rescue team, “We’re all friendlies here – but it looks like someone took out a few of our own!”. After quick greetings, they all went about the unhappy task of identifying the dead. The portal hissed and crackled, disgorging a pairs of soldiers every 30 seconds. Idiot-Finder stood by the portal, and helped those who came through to their feet and gave them a quick de-briefing.

The cavern was getting crowded as the escapees found their way home. In a few more minutes, they would all be back – unless something went wrong.

And it did.


Phantom heard the door groaning in front of him, “They’re using magnesium torches to cut the frames – we’re outta time!”

“It’s just you, Coop, Slash and me”, said EagleRock. “You and Slash go next – in ten seco..”

The door behind EagleRock exploded inward, knocking him down to the floor. It then continued on, and clipped SlashFirestorm on his back – and Slash, along with the door, fell into the portal. It crackled and screamed like a demon from Hell – and then shut down!

Phantom ran towards the commotion – and right into a squadron of six NG Moderators who were here to mop up this mess. “Drop your weapons”, the leader shouted. No one could tell who these guys were, as they always wore full-cover helmets and masked their identities for their own safety. “Well, it’s about time you assholes showed up – most of them got away! What took you so long?”, IB demanded.

“Security system was all fucked up – had to bring the system down and reload the backup protocols. But we have control now!”, The leader responded. “Only three left, huh? Well, at least they’re all Supreme Commanders. We’ll just have to add them back to our collection. You three’, he motioned to the first three Mod in the squad ,”strip the prisoners of all their weapons, and bring them back to the east holding cell. Keep them there until you get word from me”.

Phantom, Coop and EagleRock dropped all their weapons, ammo and grenades, and were led silently back through the maze of hallways. The group paused for a minute to wait for the elevator. Coop thought he heard something to his left, and he looked slowly. Nothing there but a ventilation vent blowing out dusty air – but what was that? He looked again discretely, and saw for a moment something that gave him hope – Cooper was following them via the ventilation system!

The elevator arrived, and the six of them walked in – three of them unarmed. As the doors closed, and the elevator began its descent, they all heard a “THUD” on the roof of the room, and as they looked up, the escape door opened for a moment, and something dropped down, onto the floor.

No one was quite sure what it was – it emitted a horrendous high-pitched squeal – and then all six of them passed out.


Idiot-Finder jumped back as the portal screamed and spit lightning, and watched as Slash tumbled out, followed by a very large and misshapen steel door that skidded to a stop a few feet away. Slash jumped to his feet and looked back at the portal – it was the color of an angry sea, crackling and hissing like ten pounds of aluminum foil in a very large microwave oven.

“What the fuck just happened?!?”, yelled Idiot-Finder.

“We were almost finished – but they blasted through before we were all out. This door literally pushed my ass through the portal – but EagleRock, Coop83 and Phantom are still there!”, Slash blurted – and then fell to floor in a convulsion.

Cariboo saw him fall, and ran over to him immediately with a medkit. “We don’t leave ANYONE behind!”, yelled Idiot-Finder, “I’m going back to get them – follow me!”, and he jumped into the raging portal. The whole cavern shook a little as the portal burped out a tremendous thunderclap – and then went dark and offline.

Slinger, who was still in hiding, heard the portal short out and shut down. “Fuck, now I have to recalibrate it all over again”, he said to himself. “But I just have to wait for everyone to leave…”, and he settled back and made himself as comfortable as he could.

Everyone began to talk at once, until Slash stood up and quieted them all down. “Does ANYONE here know how to get this damn portal up and running again?”, and about thirty heads all shook back and forth as a group “NO”.

“I didn’t think so. Since we can’t get it open from this side, we can only hope those guys figure out a way to open it from their end. We can’t do anything else here – grab those bodies, take anything that’s driveable, and let’s all get the hell back to the Barracks. We have a lot to sort out, and this place gives me the creeps…


Idiot-Finder woke up after the third kick to his side. He was face down on the desert floor, and the sun was hot all around him. The only shade he had was from the shadow of the person standing over him, trying to get his attention.

“Get up, maggot!”. A female voice commanded. A voice that didn’t sound like it was used to being ignored. He slowly rolled over, and his antagonist shifted to the left, so the sun was directly in Idiot-Finder’s face. He turned to the left, and with the sun glare out of the way, Idiot-Finder’s eyes adjusted to the light. His jaw dropped when he saw her.

She was about 6 foot tall, with long, red hair blowing in the hot breeze. Very muscular, but also well proportioned – and well endowed – for a woman. But that was only the start. He left arm, from the shoulder down, was completely robotic, along with her left eye – and both her legs. The cybernetic limbs shone like titanium, but they were scarred and pitted in spots, as if she had used them many times in battle.

“Byte, is that you?”, Idiot-Finder asked.

She kicked him again, this time harder. “Only my friends call me that – and I don’t have any friends here. You will address me as Mistress TeraByte”.

“Terror Bite?”, Idiot-Finder mimicked.

“Go ahead, butt-munch and make fun of my name – and I will show you what terror really is!”, and with that, the fingers on her robotic left hand began to lengthen, and the ends became rounded and spiked. They grew to two meters, and in one swift motion, she brought her arm up, and snapped the titanium cat-of-nine-tails across his back. It tore through his uniform, and left deep gashes where it found the mark.

Idiot-Finder winced a little, looked into her face, and said with a smile, “Is that all you got?”

[End of Chapter 9]


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Post Thu Jun 17, 2010 10:50 pm

Re: Through a Mirror Darkly - Chapter by Chapter

“Through a Mirror Darkly”

Chapter 10 – “All Good Things”

Originally posted on October 18th, 2009


Ismael92 glanced at his chronometer – it was 18:00 on 15-Sept-09. The past 24 hours felt like a lifetime in Hell. And it wasn’t over yet.

As they went through the grizzly task of loading their fallen comrades on the transport, Slash stood up uneasily and announced “They’re using the portal to go between dimensions and back and forth through time. Look around – what are so many former – and previously deceased – members of the Elite Guard doing here in 2009?”

“No, you’re wrong”, interrupted BlueHippo,” it’s only 2007 as far as most of us are concerned. We were kidnapped and brought forward in time. Why do you say some of us are dead? We all look pretty much alive – a little nauseous, but nothing we can’t handle.”

“See! That’s the problem!”, answered SlashFirestorm. “In this time frame, it’s 2009, and a few years ago there was a great struggle for the right to control and defend NewGrounds. Wade, aka Waldorf, kidnapped the best of the EGB to fight skirmishes against the Moderators – in the end, he only wanted the best of the best to be his henchmen, and rule NewGrounds like a dictatorship. We fought hard – and most of you died.”

“Now, wait a minute!”, Andrea364 added,” We knew about the impending war, and you had readied us for the worst. But just before we could enact your plan, we were summoned by Wade to the target practice fields – where we were summarily ambushed and kidnapped, and brought to the bunker on the other side of that thing”, she spit, gesturing at the inactive portal. “Then, less than a day later, you guys show up. We figured they went back and captured the rest of the Guard – you know, collect the whole set! Then the next day, you help us all bust out of there. From our point of view, it’s only been three or four days. We never fought – we never died, either.”

Aldlv, who was quietly listening to the conversation, cleared his throat, and interrupted,” I’m not sure how to explain it all, but I do know that right now I am grateful that all these fine men – and women – are now alive and avoided the fate of death from the hands of a madmen. I also know that the damn portal could be reactivated from the other side any time now, and if they send through armored shock troops, we’re all sitting ducks. I think we need to pack up everything now, and get the hell out while we still can.”

“But won’t they eventually come back – unless we destroy the portal?”, asked Sentio

Slash spoke up quickly, ”I’m not sure what kind of energy this thing uses – and if we blow it up, it might create a black hole or a worm hole or some other nasty quantum event that could do anything from annoy us – to destroy us. So, we need to do the next best thing – collapse the whole tunnel and the cavern entrance. If they do come back through, they won’t get far. We’ll set up motion and audio sensors outside, and if we hear any suspicious rumblings, we’ll know they’re back – and we can be ready for them.”

Fro stepped up to Slash and Aldlv, saluted, and reported in, “All deceased have been loaded onto the transports. Anything that still moves is idling in formation and ready to bug out. Orders, Commander?”

Slash and Aldlv saluted back, and Slash answered Fro, ”Very good. Begin evac immediately – but I need you and five other volunteers to rig the entire tunnel to explode and collapse once we are all clear. I don’t care if you use every kilo of C4 on that truck – collapse this tunnel from end to end the moment we are all out – and that’s an order!”

“Yes, Commander!”, Fro again saluted, and ran off, picking a half dozen of the old and new EGB to help him rig the tunnel. Aldlv heard the transports and jeep rev up and begin to drive away, and turning to Slash, said, “It’s time to go. We need to get out of here.”

They boarded the Warthog, and escorted all of the vehicles out of the tunnel while Fro and his hand-picked team packed all the C4 they had up and down the tunnel. The Warthog made one more run back to make sure nothing was left behind, and by the time it made it back out into the desert sun, Fro was standing there with a remote detonator in his hand, ready to go.

“All present and accounted for, Commander!”, he exclaimed,” We are ready to blow the tunnel!”

“Very good”, answered Slash,” Oh, by the way – how much C4 did you use?”

“All of it”, Fro answered.

“All of it?!??”, stammered Slash, “That’s over 400 kilos! You can level that mountain with all that C4!”

“That’s the whole idea, isn’t it?”, wisecracked Fro.

“Okay, let’s get a little further away, and then you can set of your fireworks.”

Back in the cavern, Slinger crept out of his hiding spot, and examined all of the C4 in the tunnel. He pulled out the firing pins from eight of the packs closest to the cavern entrance, and pulled the C4 units off the walls. “Might need these later”, he thought. Then, back inside the cavern, he activated the manual override to the blast door to the tunnel, and it closed down with a resounding thud. Slinger was now locked inside the cavern. “That door should hold up when they blow the tunnel – Once they do that, I’ll get this thing back online and get back home.”

He walked away to the farthest point of the cavern, and waited for the world to rock.

He didn’t have to wait long. A minute later, the entire cavern shook as almost 400 kilos of C4 exploded at once, and tons upon tons of mountain fell down to fill in the tunnel. The lights flickered in the cave for a few seconds, but when everything stopped resonating, the generator managed to stay alive and keep the place lit.

“Okay, now I can get back to work!”, Slinger said out loud to no one there, and he began to reprogram the portal through the command console. “Good, good – no real damage – should have this up and running in half an hour”, he thought, and absent-mindedly began to whistle the Portal theme song as he worked…


Byte read more from the Journal while Phantom readied another cot in a side office. “You can stay here as long as you need to – plenty of food, water and clean toilets. It’s safe from the night assassins – you know, those mutant scorpions – and EagleRock never comes here anymore. Make a list of what you want from the church lab, and I’ll go and bring it back.”

“Okay. First things first – I really should reset my chronometer to local time. What would that be?”, Byte queried.

Phantom answered,”It’s 17:45 on 20-July-2022. Want the weather report, too?”, he added sarcastically.

“No, thanks”, Byte replied, and continued on with the journal. It seemed that pretty much everything Phantom told her was true – there were various log entries that supported his story. Her counterpart had started off as a halfway-decent guy – a little ambitious and introverted, almost anti-social, but not dangerous. But like most other introverts, when they do open up and trust people – or fall in love – they also get hurt deeper if they are betrayed. Slinger had been betrayed by his boss and his company, and then by the government, and then later by the mishandling of the EGB from Tom and Wade. Once his wife was killed, his anger took over, and all he could do was plot revenge. It was this blind revenge that led him into his own demise, and he was betrayed once more by his cohorts in crime. He confided in a few unsavory men – and a very trustworthy woman – of his plans to take out the heads of the government and the Portal guards. They were all selfish and evil, which normally he wouldn’t care about. But they hurt him in ways no one should be hurt – a hurt that drove him to homicide.

His cohorts had bigger plans – plans they did not share with Slinger. They were going to take out the entire governing party and the biggest barracks in country – and not just here, but in any universe that they could conquer.

* * *
[Beta – 18-Sept-2022 ( three months later)]

Days turned to weeks, and weeks to months as Byte reviewed all of the notes and schematics on the Portal. During this time, Phantom managed to bring everything from the lab in the church basement back to the Aperture labs. Byte had set up the experimental portal, connecting it to the diagnostic systems to test each circuit carefully.

One afternoon, after lunch, Byte turned to Phantom and told him the bleak news, ”I think I’ll only get one shot at this. I couldn’t find any spare components for four critical parts, and if I burn them out, it’s over.”

Phantom nodded slowly, then looked at Byte, and smiled. “I know where you can get all the parts you want – but you’ll have to dig your way through to them – there’s a complete portal setup in a cavern in a mountain not too far from here.”

“That sounds like the Portal I came through to get here. It’s a few hundred feet under the side of a mountain, through a man-made tunnel.”

“Well, you’re half right – there WAS a tunnel. But the EGB sealed it off years ago, just before they were decimated. I’m sure the portal is intact – but you’ll have to find some heavy mining machinery to dig it out”

Byte’s smile disappeared. “Let me guess – all the heavy equipment was from the Barracks, which is now just a hole in the ground, right?”

Phantom looked up at Byte, and was about to confirm his suspicions when suddenly Byte saw Phantom’s face go white. Then Byte felt someone behind her. Someone familiar. She turned around slowly…

..and looked into the face of a very angry EagleRock.

“Gonna finish what you started, huh? You won’t be happy until we’re all dead, and then you can use that damn weapon unopposed. You can be the ruler of whatever world you want – and if they don’t like it, you can just kill them off! There’s always another one you can try later!”. EagleRock's eyes were wide with anger and insanity.

“No, it’s not like that. I want to go back and stop what I have done. I don’t want to make it worse”, Byte pleaded.

“LIES! All you know how to do is LIE! You betrayed us before, and now you convinced Phantom to help you betray us once again. No! It ends here and now!”

EagleRock brought up his Deagles, one in each hand, both aimed straight at Byte. Then the room filled with thunder as two guns went off at once. Byte closed her eyes, waiting for death…

No pain. No feeling of skin being torn by hot lead. Only the sound of a body hitting the floor.

She opened her eyes – EagleRock was on his back, with most of his chest missing, his blood pooling under him.

She looked at Phantom. The smoke still curled from the ends of his two .357 Magnums; and tears began to flow freely down his face. Phantom looked at Byte, and holding back his tears, looked at her square in the eyes.

“Now you HAVE to go back and stop all of this. I just killed my best friend so he wouldn’t kill you. Don’t let his death – and the deaths of all the rest of the EGB be in vain. Find a way back – make it right. You have to…. You just have to…”, and his voice trailed off, as he turned away, sobbing to himself.

“No pressure here, right?”, Byte said to herself sarcastically, and went back to work on the portal circuits.

[Alpha – 15-Sept-2009 18:15]

Slinger waited for all the dust to settle before he began the portal power-up. It was a good thing it had shut down earlier, or the blast vibrations could have damaged some of the active circuits. Using the robotic interface, he quickly reconnected to the command console. It took less than five minutes for the portal to reactivate.

He used the remote camera to see what had happened on the other side of the portal. Most of the captives had escaped, but a few had been supposedly recaptured. Panning around the camera, he could see IB working on the portal controls at her end, ignoring the corpses that littered the hallway. She seemed to be the only one alive – at least within camera range.

Activating the communication console, he startled IB with his greeting. “Hey, good-lookin! What’s going on? Is the mission still on track?”

IB gave a little laugh, and answered back, “Yes, and it’s actually better than we planned. All of this chaos is being blamed on the EGB escape, and the few recaptured men jammed themselves in an elevator. Not too bright – they can’t hide there, and they’re trapped like fish in a barrel. All of this gives us all the misdirection we need to do what we planned.”

“Very good. How many packages are ready for delivery?”, Slinger asked.

“We have a nice set of four lovely party favors that are ready to be delivered”, IB purred.

“Okay, sit tight. I should be there within half an hour. Don’t start the party without me, okay?”

“Of course not”, IB retorted. “This is YOUR party, after all. See you in a bit.”, and the comm. signal went out.

Slinger went back to work on recalibrating the portal. He would be home soon.

[Gamma 15-Sept-2009 18:16]

Coop83 became aware of someone slapping his face to wake up. His head felt like it had exploded, and then someone took all the pieces, put them back in – and then used the Magic Bullet to liquefy it into a frothy health drink. His eyes came into focus, and he saw Phantom, EagleRock and Cooper standing over him. They were all back in a maintenance passageway again.

“Uh, what the hell happened?”, he groaned. “Last thing I remember, we were in the elevator, when suddenly there was a powerful high-pitched scream – and everything turned black.”

“Sonic grenade”, answered Cooper. “Knocks out people by audio overload. Usually lasts about an hour – and no messy cleanup. I dropped one in the elevator, and when everyone was out cold, I jumped down, and overrode the elevator to the surface level.”

“Why weren’t you knocked out?”, asked Phantom.

“Special sound-canceling earplugs. The noise still hurt a little, but my mind didn’t overload.”, he replied. “Now, come with me – we don’t have much time. “

They followed Cooper through another maze of tunnels, until they opened an access door to the motor pool area. Quietly exiting, they found a covered jeep nearby. Being it was the motor pool, every vehicle had the keys in the ignition, ready to go at a moments notice. And this jeep was the vehicle of choice, given the moment.

They all piled in, with Cooper driving. “Guys, just play along with me. It’ll all work out!”. Cooper pulled away slowly and easily, and drove straight to the guarded exit. Cooper looked at the guard, and said “If you don’t tell anyone we’re going on a beer run, I can see a case of your favorite bottle of booze finding it’s way in your locker…”

Phantom, Coop83 and EagleRock started to ham it up, “Whooo – Hooo! Beer run! Yeah, we’ll be back before they know we’re gone…oh, yeah….”

The guard smiled, keyed in the exit door release, and said just three words: “Chivas Regal 1998”

“It’s as good as yours!”, Cooper answered, and drove away as quickly as he could into the desert. The sun would only be up for a few more hours, so he had to get everyone safe sooner than later. They drove for about twenty minutes, until they came to a T-intersection. Cooper made a left, facing the jeep north – and then stopped. “I have to get back to the Barracks before next role call. It’s about a mile down south on that road” . He pulled out a wad of money, and told the guys, ”There’s a small general store about 10 miles north on this road. You can’t miss it – it’s the only store out there for 100 miles. Pick up some beer, chips, any type of food you want. Then head back south, back to this intersection. Wait here until dark. I’ll come back and meet you here, and by then, I’d have figured out the best place to hide you.”

EagleRock jumped into the driver’s seat, and took the cash from Cooper. “Oh, one more thing”, Cooper added, and pulled a journal book from his inner jacket pocket. “Take this, and read it while you’re waiting. It should help you understand some of the critical people and events that have transpired these past few years – and it may provide you with some valuable information that could make the difference between your survival – or your death.”

EagleRock was puzzled, but accepted the journal. They bid their farewells, and went their separate ways.

[Alpha 15-Sept-2009 19:00]

Slinger smiled as the last diagnostic routine finished, and the portal opened up again to his home dimension. He stepped into the portal…

… and for a moment, something rippled, like a wave of water from the bow of a boat…

[Gamma 15-Sept-2009 19:00]
… then Slinger was back in his dimension. IB turned around, and saw the strange woman with the cybernetic implants looking back at her. Slinger was still a little woozy from that weird ripple, and all he could say was, ”Hey, IB, it’s me, Slinger. See, I told you something interesting happened to me…”

IB looked puzzled. “She doesn’t sound like Slinger. “, IB thought. “She certainly doesn’t look like Slinger. Well, maybe a little bit, like some sort of distant relative. And that arm looks like a weapon…”

The same Deagle that killed Coby and Rock was now pointed at Slinger’s head. He looked at IB, and said “What are you doing? What about the Project? You need me to finish it!”

“No, that’s where you’re wrong. I need your name, not you. I need you to be the fall guy while I claim the power that should be mine. And I certainly don’t need you alive anymore – especially as a half-cyborg bitch!”, and she pulled the trigger to accentuate her dismay. The shot was clean – right into the optical implant, shattering it to pieces. The back of her head exploded out in ragged fragments, and she fell to the floor.

IB left her there as she made some adjustments to the portal. Then, from a nearby storage room, she rolled out a gurney – and under the sheet was a high-yield giga-ton nuclear bomb. She set the trigger to start a 3-second countdown once it began to fall. One final adjustment and the portal flickered a bit. IB picked up Byte’s corpse, and laid it face down on the bomb – and then started to roll the gurney to the portal.

[Gamma 15-Sept-2009 19:05]
Phantom, Coop83 and EagleRock were heading back south on the road, in the direction of the intersection where they would meet up with Cooper. They had beer and chips and other unhealthy snacks that they would use as comfort food to help them ease down from this day of Hell. Most of the Barracks were back home, safe and secure. That was some good news. Now they just needed to find a way back home themselves.

Meanwhile, Cooper was back at the EGB, walking through the main courtyard. He had made it back in time for roll call, and no one missed him. The sun was low in the sky, and once it set, he’d sneak back out and meet up with the others.

Suddenly, part of the sky above him turned black. He looked up, and saw a perfect circle hovering far above the courtyard. The edges flickered with power, and the interior rippled like stormy water.

“Oh, shit”, he exclaimed, “now what?”

[Gamma 15-Sept-2009 19:05:30]
IB pushed the gurney through the portal, stepped back, and then slammed the emergency power-down button. The portal shut down immediately – right after the package was delivered.

Cooper watched as he saw something shiny fall out of the blackness, catching the rays of the setting sun. He watched it for a moment or two…

..and then the sky turned white, blinding Cooper. He fell in agony, and less than a second later, the sonic boom leveled the barracks, followed by a firestorm that melted everything into a puddle. Cooper never knew what hit him – and neither did anyone else in the barracks.

About ten miles away, in a jeep heading south, Coop83, Phantom and EagleRock watched as a pure-white mushroom cloud billowed over the barracks. They felt the ground rumble, and the trees shook a little as the energy wave, which was almost spent, passed over them. They were just far enough away not to be hurt by the weapon – but close enough to realize what just happened. The jeep skidded to a halt, and no one spoke.

“We are so fucked”, EagleRock announced.

[Alpha 15-Sept-2009 19:05]

The transports and caravan finally made it back to the barracks. Krev met the caravan in the courtyard, and saw for herself all of the extra members that were rescued. Ismael92 filled her in on what happened, and told her that besides the bodies in the truck, Byteslinger would also be considered a casualty as well. Krev’s eyes teared up when she saw the broken bodies of Lizz, SlntCobra, Porkchop and all of her other friends. It was rumored that Byte did all of this, and then escaped from the portal – but no one could prove it. Her heart was heavy as she went back to her lab, mourning such a loss.

[Gamma 15-Sept-2009 19:10]

IB powered back up the portal, and ran the auto-set program for the next target. This time the portal was very turbulent, showing some instabilities. “It just has to last for a minute”, she said to herself.

She went back into the storage room, and pulled out the next gurney. Another bomb – another package.

But she didn’t notice that the timer on the bomb farthest from the door was counting down from 59…58…57…

…the timer Cooper set in the middle of all of the chaos less than an hour ago.

The door to the storage room closed as IB rolled the gurney into place. The room was dark – except for the faded green glow of the timer under the sheet.

[Alpha 15-Sept-2009 19:10]

As Aldlv and Ismael watched over the caravan being unloaded, something caught their eye in the evening sky above them. Something black and round, with energy sparking around the edges.

“What the hell is that?”,blurted Ismael. Everyone looked up. From the courtyard, Cariboo yelled, ”It looks like that energy hole we came through to get back here.”

“Oh shit”, Ismael exclaimed. “Now what?”

[Gamma 15-Sept-2009 19:10:30]

For the second time, IB pushed a gurney with a pre-armed nuke through the portal. “This’ll show them not to fuck with me!”, she said to no one there, and the moment it cleared the threshold, she hit the emergency power off switch. Then she opened up the communications channels, keyed into the emergency broadcast radio bands, and made an announcement:

“This is not a drill, repeat, this is not a drill. I am broadcasting this message to all troops and to all who are in range. One of the Elite Guard, Supreme Commander ByteSlinger, has taken over the Portal weapon, and is using it for personal revenge. We need assistance immediately at the Aperture Testing Annex. He must be stopped…”

But she never finished the sentence. The bomb Cooper set went off, leveling the Annex the same way the first one leveled the EGB.

Back in the Jeep, the three men heard the broadcast, and couldn’t believe what they were hearing.

“ByteSlinger using the portal for revenge? Why? Did everyone go crazy all at once?”, Phantom stammered.

Before anyone could answer him, they saw a second mushroom cloud billow from the mountainside just west of where the barracks were – and the radio message was cut off at the same time.

“Looks like Byte set that one to go off just a little bit too early”, EagleRock commented harshly.

“That’s all, folks!”, mocked Coop83.

EagleRock restarted the jeep, and headed back north, away from all of the devastation.

“Where are we going?”, Phantom asked.

“I don’t know anymore”, EagleRock muttered. “I just don’t know”…

[Alpha 15-Sept-2009 19:10:30]

Everyone in the courtyard watched as something shiny appeared from the portal, and gasped as the portal disappeared a moment later. But before anyone could say a word, the sky went white…and moments later, everything and everybody in a mile radius was incinerated, leaving only twisted, molten metal and scorched mountainside. Both barracks, in both worlds, were now no more…

[Beta 18-Sept-2022]

As Byte worked on calibrating and repairing the portal generator, she felt an odd flutter – almost a ripple – pass through her. And then, for some strange reason, she had an odd feeling that she was suddenly, terribly all alone…

[End of Chapter 10]


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Post Thu Jun 17, 2010 10:50 pm

Re: Through a Mirror Darkly - Chapter by Chapter

“Through a Mirror Darkly”

Chapter 11


Originally posted on October 23rd, 2009

[Beta 18-Sept-2022]

Byte felt very uneasy working on the portal generator with a dead body in the room, but Phantom made it quite clear that he would take care of EagleRock’s remains – and that Byte’s only job now was to get the Portal to work again. She didn’t want to confront Phantom – he seemed already at the edge, and it probably wouldn’t take much to push him off. But Byte never really knew how to keep quiet when she didn’t want to be.

“Hey, Phantom…”, started Byte, then paused until he turned to look her way. His eyes were red and his face showed an anguish that was almost beyond words.

“What?”, he answered tersely.

“Look, EagleRock was my commander, too – maybe not this body’s commander, but he is the one I do remember, and respect. Let me help you with his funeral. It’s only right that I be there…”

“Right?!?!?”, he cut her off before she could finish,” You’re just as much responsible for his death as the others. Your meddling with the portal caused all of this – and now it’s even more convoluted because there’s two different halves of you here – and that caused even more grief. All of your failures killed so many people, and now, just your presence here has caused another death…””

“Hey!”, she interrupted,” That’s not fair! You shot EagleRock and killed him. You could have just as easily just winged him before he got his own shots off. So, why did you kill him, then?”

Phantom’s face turned red, and his knuckles whitened as he clenched his fists. “You…You bastard! How can you ask that? I had no choice. If he killed you, then no one could go back and stop this from happening. He’s been beyond reason for a decade. He wasn’t going to suddenly develop sanity in one day – especially after seeing you”. Then he paused, and got very quiet. He spoke barely above a whisper now, “ I had no choice. And you don’t, either! You have to find a way back…it can’t end this way…it can’t…”, and he trailed off again.

Byte walked over to Phantom, and put her hand on his shoulder. Softly, she said to him, “You don’t have to do this alone. Let me help you bury Eagle, and then you can help me get this portal to work. I could use a few extra hands.”

Phantom looked up at Byte’s face, and for a moment, realized that the person talking was the Byte he knew. This was the Byte that was trying to rescue them, that was on their side. But that Byte is in the wrong body – and that’s what was making it so hard for Phantom to open up. He never once concerned himself with how she (he?) was feeling.

“Okay,” Phantom answered, “we’ll get up at sunrise, and take him to the church yard, and bury him there. We can modify one of the stretchers, and carry him on that. We can’t do it now – too close to dark. But first thing in the morning, ok?”

“Yes, in the morning”, Byte repeated. Phantom stood up, and draped a sheet over EagleRock’s body, covering him from head to toe. Byte took a few candles, put them around the corpse, and lit them. In the darkening room, the candles threw eerie shadows on the walls, moving with the unseen drafts. Phantom just sat and watched the candles, while Byte went back to work on the portal project. Eventually, the day caught up with both of them, and they fell asleep sitting in their chairs.

[Beta 19-Sept-2022 06:30]

Byte woke up to the sound of a pan being hit with a metal spoon. “Hey, if you’re gonna help me, you gotta get up now”, Phantom announced. “Here, eat something before we get started”, and a freeze-dried ration package of something that at one time may have been food bounced off Byte’s face and into her lap.

“Nice reflexes”, Phantom snickered. Byte just looked at him darkly. “You know I’m not a morning person”, and she tore open the food packet. “Well, this is either freeze-dried ice-cream or roast beef. Not quite sure...”, and she ate it anyway.

EagleRock’s body had been laid on a heavy-duty stretcher, covered completely in black cloth, and then secured with a series of army-issue belts. Two shovels and two backpacks stood by the stretcher, ready to go. Phantom looked ready to go, too. Everything was ready to go – except Byte.

“Ok, let me go take a piss, wash up quick and then we can be on our way”, Byte added.

“Women. Always make you wait for them”, Phantom sneered.

Byte walked into the bathroom, and instinctively dropped her pants and sat down on the bowl. “Oh, yeah. I forgot I had that, and angled her little friend down into the water. A minute later, as she was getting herself back together and washing up, she looked in the mirror – and an unfamiliar face looked back at her. “Oh, Lord. Good thing I’ve been too busy to think about this problem. Even if I do find my way back, how am I going to go through life as a guy? A woman literally trapped in a man’s body!”, and she put her head down and shook it slowly.

Then the light bulb came on. “Which means somewhere, at some time, there’s a guy trapped in my body. Ewwww…that can’t be good. If there was only a way to switch…to switch it back! That’s it! I know where I have to go back – to the moment I first fell into the portal. No, no that’s not good. If I stop myself, that could create a paradox. I have to find a way to get back into my body sometime later. But when? And if I do, how do stop the other “me” from blowing everything to Hell? Maybe to save the timeline, and my friends…maybe I’ll have to end up dead like my alter egos. This is so maddening – I may only get one shot at this, and I have to make it count…”

Byte walked out of the bathroom, and wordlessly strapped on the last backpack, slung the shovel over her back and secured it, and then on the count of three, picked up EagleRock’s body. Phantom led them out of the building, only stopping to secure the doors.

The morning sun had just crested the mountains. It wasn’t as hot this morning as yesterday, and there was a slight breeze blowing. But still no birds, no insects – just the quiet sound of a dead land and two pair of boots trudging through sand and loose rocks.

A little while later, they arrived at the church cemetery. Phantom noticed that his grave had a new tenant. “That’s sad – I lost my last friend yesterday, and now I don’t even have a grave to be buried in when I die.”

Byte answered solemnly, ”I’m sorry, Phantom. I didn’t know you were still alive when I buried Slinger’s body.”

“That’s okay. It doesn’t matter anyway. If you make it back through the portal, there’s a good chance none of these events will happen this way – and I won’t need the grave. “

“But what if I go back and fail?”, asked Byte

“Then it still won’t matter – I can’t bury myself when I die – and there won’t be anyone else here to do it for me.”, Phantom answered, matter-of-factly.

They carefully unstrapped EagleRock’s body from the stretcher, and lowered his body into his grave. Phantom looked down at his friend, picked up his shovel, and before he threw the first scoop of dirt into the grave, he looked up into the sky and said, “Be at peace, my friend. I will see you soon”. Then he tossed the first shovelful of dirt into the open grave. Byte picked up the other shovel, and without saying a word, helped Phantom fill in the hole.

When they were finished, Phantom took out a large, wooden plaque from his backpack. On it was a brass plate, with an engraving done by Phantom’s own hand:

“Supreme Commander EagleRock”
“1982 – 2022”
“Keep Fighting The Good Fight”

Phantom placed the plaque at the foot of the grave, along with EagleRocks’ dog tags. When Phantom stood back up again, Byte could see tears on his cheeks. He wiped them away with the back of his hand, and then said flatly, “Get all the gear. We have another stop to make”. Byte picked up the shovels and a backpack, and Phantom grabbed the rest. With the stretcher folded and rolled up under his arm, Phantom lead the way past the graveyard, and back down the other side of the hill. Byte followed behind, not sure where he was going. But as they walked in the unnatural silence, the landscape started to become more familiar. She recognized the outcroppings here.

They were back at EagleRocks’ place.

Phantom reached in his pocket, pulled out an odd-shaped key, and unlocked and opened the heavy door.

“Why are we here? We should let the dead rest!”, Byte said, a little nervously.

“The dead are resting. We are here to get some answers – and any supplies that are left.” Byte looked at him like he was a grave robber, but Phantom continued, “That was our agreement when we set this place up. As we died off, the survivors would evenly share whatever was left. I’m the last survivor – all of this is mine now. EagleRock and Coop83 would have done the same thing.”

They went inside, and after lighting a few lamps, closed the metal door and latched it. Looking around, the large store room liked like two different people had lived there. The neat one lived up front, very tidy and organized. The back was cluttered with boxes and junk and odds and ends that looked like some old man’s attic threw up in it. There were easily months and months of rations left, as well as a generator and some fuel.

Byte wandered back into the gloom of the back of the room, and lit a few more lamps. Looking closer, she noticed many boxes full of notes and papers and diagrams. Some were in EagleRocks’ handwriting, but most were typed up, like spec sheets. And every box had this wonderful little phrase stenciled on it:

“Property of Aperture Science Labs”

Byte thumbed through some boxes – there were untold piles of notes on the portal in here – and even some spare parts and some test components as well. Byte felt like she hit the lottery. But her grand prize came when she found a large object covered in a blanket near the workbench. After carefully removing the blanket, her jaw dropped. “Phantom…you gotta see this”

Phantom ambled over and looked in the general direction of the object the blanket once covered. He also was speechless for a moment, then added:

“Now we have two portal puzzles to work on”

“What the hell is all this stuff doing here?”, questioned Byte

“Isn’t it obvious?”, Phantom answered smugly. “He was building his own portal. He wanted to change the past himself.”

“Did you know he was doing this?”, Byte continued

“No…but if anyone could figure it out, he could.”, Phantom replied flatly. “He was always talking about the ten-dimensional universe and other theories that really just went over my head. I didn’t give them much thought – until now.”

Byte looked through all of the papers on a table, and found EagleRocks journals and notes. Phantom started to collect various parts in boxes and moved them to the front door. “Grab what you can – it’ll be getting dark soon. We can always come back tomorrow for the rest of it”. Byte was going to read the journals now, but Phantom was right – there would time for that later tonight. Instead, she carefully packed all of the written material she could fit in the backpacks, and then helped Phantom set up the boxes on the stretcher. She wasn’t quite sure what was in all of them, but if it was important enough for EagleRock to hold onto it, it was probably important enough to take now.

They carried the stretcher out of the front door, and Phantom locked it behind them. Byte looked at him quizzically, and asked “Do the night creatures have opposable thumbs?”

“No, I doubt it.”, he answered, and gave Byte an odd look.” Why do you ask?”

“Because the only two people left around here are me and you – but you just locked the door behind you. Why?”

“Force of habit”, he answered gruffly,” now, any more stupid questions? This shit ain’t light, and we have to get moving!”

Byte picked up her end, and Phantom did the same, leading the way. The sun was sinking low in the sky, and the shadows grew long and ominous. She felt Phantom pick up the pace with a longer stride. “Good idea”, she thought, and matched his cadence. They made it up over the hill, past the church, and down the other side. “Less than a mile to the lab from here, right?”, she said, and Phantom nodded a quick acknowledgment.

They turned right, and headed through the small valley towards the entrance. A few minutes later, Phantom just stopped short, causing Byte to step into the stretcher. “Hey, what gives…”, she started, but Phantom raised his hand to silence her. She looked past him, and her heart started racing. Ahead of them the valley was completely in the shadows of the setting sun, even though they still had a few minutes light where they stood. But it wasn’t the shadows that made Phantom stop – it was the rather large scorpion blocking their way!

“Oh, shit”, Byte muttered, and froze. The creature hadn’t seen them yet. “Bend down slowly, and put the stretcher on the ground”, Phantom spoke, barely above a whisper. They lowered the stretcher carefully to the ground, and then stood back up. Byte turned and looked to the left, and saw the valley falling into the shadows, blocking their escape.

Phantom looked at Byte, and she nodded back. There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. They only had one choice – they had to fight this thing. “How much ammo you got?”, Phantom asked. “I have 4 full clips in my vest, and two full ones in my weapons. Little over 50 rounds. You?”

“I have about the same. I say we split up – you take one side of the valley, I’ll take the other. It’s big, but it can’t attack both of us at once that way. You have to aim for the head, or the soft spot under the neck. Everything else is like armor plating. The bullets will just bounce off it and piss it off.”

“But if one of us draws it’s attention, it will be facing away from the other one of us – we won’t have a shot.”, Byte replied.

Phantom thought for a moment, then continued. “We’ll have to take turns strafing it. One of us will stand still, and get its attention – the other will run back and forth, and wait for the head and neck to be exposed. We can fall back as we go, and alternate sides – if we keep it confused and off-balance, we might get lucky.”

Byte thought it over and asked, “What if we run out of ammo before we kill it?”

Phantom reached around his neck, and took off a thin leather strap that had a few keys on it. He tossed it to Byte. “Here are the keys to all the doors. If we get desperate, you have to make a run for Lab while I keep this bastard busy. Let’s face it – if you die, I’m dead anyway.”

“NO!”, she exclaimed, “We will kill this thing right here and now, and we’ll both get to see the morning!”

“I hope you’re right!”, he yelled, “’cause it just saw us!”

Byte ran to the left side of the valley, Phantom to the right. They were about 200 feet apart, and they watched the scorpion scuttle towards them. It moved fast for something that big. “Christ, it’s the size of a mini-van – if a mini-van had six armored legs, two giant claws, and a stinger the size of a full-grown alligator!”, screamed Byte. Her nervous response had taken over – making jokes at the worst times. This thing was not going to go down easy.

It lunged at Phantom first, and he fired a few rounds in the general direction of its head. The tail instinctively flew over the body, aiming directly at Phantom’s face. Phantom dodged back and to the left, and fired a few more rounds at the scorpion’s underbelly. But it moved too fast, and his bullets just ricocheted off the carapace.

Byte ran sideways towards Phantom, keeping her eyes on the giant arachnid. But sneaking up on the thing was damn near impossible. With two eyes in front, and two other pairs on the sides of its head, it could detect motion in a 210 degree range. It saw Byte making the attack, and shifted right to cut her off. Phantom sidestepped a giant claw, and fired four more rounds at the head. This time, a few hit their mark. The scorpion stopped for a moment, shocked by the sudden pain in its head and the loss of vision in one of its secondary eyes. In that second, Byte moved in closer, taking aim and firing at the exposed right side of its neck. Again, a few shots managed to hit the unprotected skin near the head and neck, and the scorpion reared up in rage.

Phantom stepped back to steady himself for a better shot, but his right foot slipped on some loose stones, and he lost his balance, falling backwards. The scorpion fell forward, smashing a huge claw down at Phantom. He tried to roll away, but the monster’s pincer slammed into his left leg, just below the knee – and pinned him in place.

Byte rushed forward, shooting directly at the scorpions right eye, but this time, it wasn’t paying any attention to her. It had caught Phantom, and began to rear the monstrous stinger for the final blow.

There was no time to think, no time to plan. So Byte did the first thing that came to her mind: she dove forward, rolled on her back directly under the scorpion, and fired both guns point-blank into the soft neck. Within seconds, 18 rounds of hot lead seared through the muscles and fibers of the beast, severing nerves and disconnecting the brain. The tail fell forward from momentum, narrowly missing Phantom, and then the creature collapsed – on top of Byte!

She felt the weight of the dying monster crush her chest, and it was hard to breathe. Before she could call for help, she blacked out…


[Beta 20-Sept-2022 07:15]

Byte woke up to the smell of eggs frying. For a moment, she forgot where she was. She hadn’t had a real meal in ages, and the smell of a home-made breakfast made her smile. But that feeling ended quite abruptly when she tried to sit up, and the pain exploded through her chest once more. “Damn, that hurts!”, she cried.

“And it will for a while”, retorted Phantom. “You busted 5 or 6 of them. Now stay still – you don’t want to puncture a lung.”
Phantom help Byte to sit up on the cot, and dragged a table over to her. He plopped down two old plates, a few sporks, and a frying pan of eggs and bacon. “Eat up”, Phantom invited, and they split the bacon and eggs onto the two plates.

“Ummm…This tastes great! Thanks!”, Byte said between mouthfuls. Then she noticed that Phantom was actually smiling and a bit happier this morning. “So, what gives with the breakfast?”, she added, suspicious of Phantom’s motives.

“You had a chance to make a run for it while that beast ate me for dinner. But you didn’t run. You fought it, and were willing to sacrifice yourself to save me. I had you all wrong. I really thought you’d be just like your predecessor – wrapped up in himself, not really caring about anyone else. But yesterday, you showed your true colors. You showed me that you really know what it means to be an Elite Guard.”

Byte was quiet for a moment, and then said humbly, “You would have done the same for me.”

Phantom looked at Byte, then looked away. “I don’t know about that”, he muttered under his breath.

She didn’t want to push him anymore, so she decided to change the subject. “Now, what happened after I blacked out?”

“When the scorpion collapsed and lay still, I managed to get out from under it’s claw. It put a nasty gash in my left shin, but no broken bones or nerve damage. Still hurts like hell, though. I got up, dragged my ass over to you, and my first thought was that you were dead. I checked your pulse, and your heart was still going strong. I had to find a way to get the creature off of you, and soon. I looked around, found two decent sized rocks, and pushed them both by the side of the scorpion. I then grabbed the steel poles off of the stretcher, and using one rock as a fulcrum, wedged the poles under one side of the beastie, and pushed down. It lifted up enough for me to push in the other rock with my foot, and when I let go again, the rock acted like a jack to take the weight off of you. I pulled you out slowly, and saw that your ribs were flattened – not a good sign. I put the rods back on the stretcher, dumped everything off of it, and used it to drag you back inside. Then I taped your chest up, and got you into the cot.”

“Wow.”, Byte said, truly grateful. “Thank you.”

Then Phantom continued. “When the sun came up this morning, I went back outside, and grabbed all of the boxes and gear, and brought it all in. I also brought you a souvenir”, and he reached around, and pulled up the scorpion’s stinger. It was over 3 feet long, evilly curved, and had a hollow point that could drain a man’s blood supply in minutes.

“Nice!”, Byte smiled, “But what about the poison?”

“Oh, that’s in here”, Phantom answered, pointing to a 5-gallon fuel container. “I drained it all before I cut the tail. Never know when a few gallons of toxic scorpion poison will come in handy!”

Byte finished her breakfast, and Phantom cleaned up. “You stay here and start to make sense of all these diagrams. I’m going to go back for more things from EagleRock’s storage shed. I will be back well before 17:00”

She nodded her assent, and Phantom left with a backpack and the empty stretcher.

* * *

[Beta 20-Sept-2022 16:25]

Phantom returned with another load of booty from EagleRock’s stash, and Byte was grinning from ear-to-ear.

“Are you happy to see me, or did you figure out something while I was gone?”, he asked.

“Both, actually”, Byte answered. “You see, putting a portal back together is pretty much mechanical. If you have the right tools and the specs and the parts, it’s just a matter of time before you get it fired up. But the hard part is programming it – especially knowing how to calculate the additional coordinates to bounce between times and dimensions. That’s the part I worried about. Well, was worrying about…”

“You found the codes to the portal?”, Phantom asked, getting excited.

“Better than that. I found the last set of portal parameters and control information from a log backup on a DVD in one of the boxes. It has all the information I need to figure out the coordinates for a jump back to my – our – dimension. I just have to figure out when and where to land. That’s assuming that we can put together a trans-dim portal from all of these parts.”

“Well, that is good news. I’ll keep bringing more parts back here every day, while you try to heal those ribs and lay out all the parts we need. Once we have everything … well, then you get to try to go back and save the world.”, commented Phantom .

“Yes. But there’s one thing that troubles me”, she added, darkly. “All of these logs have my digital signature from my cybernetic arm. But I don’t ever recall operating the portal. All I did was look it over before I got zapped into it. And the date stamps are later in that same day…”

“Which means the Slinger character who occupied your body was accessing and reprogramming the portal with your onboard systems”, Phantom added

“Great. Just wonderful. God knows what else he did.”, wondered Byte.

Byte looked around, and then asked “How did EagleRock get all of this equipment anyway?”

Phantom smiled back and said, “Some of it came from this lab. The rest came from the portal cavern”

“But that was sealed years ago! How long did it take to dig through that collapsed rock?”

“He didn’t dig. He found the maintenance air shafts, and broke through those to get in.”

“And how do you know that?”

“Because I found his map on his desk”, and he tossed a discolored page in her lap. Sure enough, it was in EagleRock’s handwriting – a complete roadmap of the air duct system, and notes how to get in and out.

Byte sat back hard, and winced when her ribs complained about the sudden movement. “It’s so maddening. All the pieces are in front of me, and I can get most of the puzzle done. I just don’t know where to go after it’s all built…”

Her mind drifted off. “The answer is in front of me”, she thought, “but why can’t I see it?” She got up slowly, and went to the bathroom. As she was washing her hands, she looked at the face in the mirror. The face that wasn’t hers.

Then the light bulb went on in her brain, “Yes…Yes, I think I know now!”. She went back out to the table, and reviewed the printout from the log file.

“Phantom, I know the last piece of the puzzle. I know what I have to do now – and where I have to jump!”

“But you said that you couldn’t find a single point in the time-line to undo all of this without creating a paradox”, reminded Phantom

“Yes. That’s why I’ll be making two jumps – to two very specific points in the time-line. But they have to be done in the right way, in the right order. I won’t get a second chance.”

“Why not? If you have the portal, can’t you just go back and try a different way?”, asked Phantom.

“No. If these notes are right, if my first jump is a success, it will partially unravel the future, and things will shift in the time continuum. I have to make the 2nd jump before the effects of the first jump hit this time period – or else I will create a paradox!”

“I’m not sure what you mean, but I have to trust you on this.” Phantom was a little concerned, but relieved that there was now a chance that things could be changed. “I’m gonna make some chow – why don’t you dig through this last batch of hardware, and see if anything is useful”

Byte got up gingerly, and started to poke around the dusty equipment. She opened one box, and there was a semi-spherical glass orb attached to a rectangular power box, with three equally-spaced power conduits running from the center to the edges. There was a little power left in the circuit, and the conduits glowed slowly like cheap Christmas lights.

“Now, what the hell am I supposed to do with this flux capacitor anyway?”

[End of Chapter 11]


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Post Thu Jun 17, 2010 10:51 pm

Re: Through a Mirror Darkly - Chapter by Chapter

“Through a Mirror Darkly”

Chapter 12

“Let’s Do The Time Warp Again….”

Originally posted on October 26th, 2009

[Beta 31-Oct-2022 08:30]

Byte stood back, and took a good, long look at the control panel of her creation. In the past six weeks, using parts found from EagleRock’s place and here at the lab, Byte managed to piece together what should be a working portal generator. There were plenty of parts left over, almost enough to build a second portal generator. But there were a few critical components that had no spares, so they had to be very careful with power management. One fried circuit, and all of this would be for nothing.

While Byte had been working on the portal, Phantom kept himself busy by ferrying all the boxes of parts and notes from EagleRock’s den – and then later, all of the food and other supplies. He didn’t want to know the details of how the portal worked – he just knew he had to do what he could to make it work. On his last trip from the den, Phantom announced to Byte that everything that he was going to take had been removed, and what was left would be locked up as a tribute to EagleRock.

“All of his medals and commendations, his pictures with the EGB, his parade uniform, letters from his friends and family – and, of course, his espresso machine”, Phantom had announced. “I locked the door behind me – here’s the key”, and he handed it to Byte. “You take it with you when you jump. You’ll know your mission succeeded if this key disappears – that means you never got the key, and none of this happened in the modified time-line.”

All of the circuits passed their self-check diagnostics. All three generators (the one here, the one from the lab in the church basement and the one from EagleRock’s place) were now in the room next door, tied together through a monster power inverter. These were needed to create the 1.21 gigawatt stream that was required to open the portal through the various continuums.

The programming for the portal was tricky at first, until Byte realized that there were two types of wormholes that could be created. The first was a “point-to-point” wormhole, which connected this portal to another one that was active. This wormhole was generally more stable, and easier to generate, since the end-point was not only fixed, but also had its own power to help keep the tunnel integrity very high. There was only a small chance of “drift” – where the endpoint wanders in time, space or dimension from the desired endpoint. However, a large energy burst – or superconductive material -within the tunnel could disrupt it. There were no guarantees, but this was actually the safest bet.

The other type of wormhole was known as the “probability portal”. The endpoint was a function of known coordinates through all dimensions, and based on those coordinates, the tunnel was created, and varied until the endpoint matched – to within certain tolerances – the desired target. This tunnel was harder to create, as it took more time to stabilize while searching for the matching endpoint. Byte managed to optimize the code to make the search routines faster, but the lower the tolerances, the longer it took to get to the endpoint. This meant using more power, which increases the chance of portal overload or shutdown.

The term “probability” referred to the fact that the endpoint was usually “very probably” the one you wanted. But variations in the parameters could mean that you were not quite where you wanted to be. You could be off by a half a second, or half an inch – or half a parallel universe. It was easy to determine the end parameters – but it required manual adjustments to keep the endpoint where you wanted it. It was through these accidental variations that the parallel worlds were discovered – and later, were to become targets of war.

“This explains why they built that Portal in the mountainside”, Byte told Phantom. “By placing a portal in our time continuum, they were able to maintain a stable passageway to let their soldiers pass between both worlds. “ Phantom nodded, following the strategic logic, but not understanding the technology behind it.

Byte began saving copies of programs, notes and all of the information she could onto computer DVDs. Phantom gave her a hand by using a second computer and backing up all of the schematics and logs as well. When they were done, Byte had 10 DVDs full of information, which she bundled together in her backpack. “These will come with me. I’ll need them for the second jump.”

“So, what is your target for the first jump?,” Phantom asked, very curiously.

“I am targeting the portal in the cavern, in my home dimension, the exact date and time my alter ego jumped back from my dimension to his”, she answered

Phantom shook his head, confused. “Okay, go slower – what are you trying to accomplish?”

“It’s like this: at the original event, when I was pulled into the portal, I collided in the tunnel with my parallel self from this dimension. Not only did we swap souls, but I was thrown into the future. I know now that the parallel me – in my original body – stayed in my dimension, and did a lot of damage. Yet the future here shows that the parallel me lives on in his own body, and tries to make amends for the past. You even knew that person, and he died by way of arachnid misadventure.”

She paused, giving Phantom some time to catch up. “Now, for the parallel me to be in his own body and to move forward in time, he can’t be in my body. So some mechanism has to undo the switch. I thought about jumping back into the time when I was first was pulled in, but that would create a paradox of future selves and past selves and probably make things worse. So, since one switch occurred when we both went into the portal at the same time, it stands that there may be a chance that if I time it again, I can recreate the switch as he’s coming back…”

“Which means”, interrupted Phantom, “That you could swap bodies back. But where would everyone end up?”

“Well, we know that the parallel male me needs to end up in this time stream, and later try to build a portal and go back to fix things. He will fail, but where he failed, I won’t. As for me, I’m not sure, but since my target is the cavern portal in my dimension, I think that’s where I’ll end up – and hopefully back in my on body.”, finished Byte.

Phantom sat for a moment, and then he had his epiphany. “So, that’s why you need to do the second jump. The first one will hopefully put you and your parallel self back where you belong, but it will happen after all the damage has been done. You’ll then have to hop back further to stop it from happening completely. But when will that be?”

“I don’t know.”, Byte replied. “I have to check the information in the cavern portal system when I arrive and make my decision then. It also depends on how successful I am in getting my body back or not. This is all theoretical, and all I can do is prepare the best that I can.”

“That explains all the DVDs you just burned”, add Phantom. “You don’t know what you’ll need to do until you get there, and if you need reference material, you’ll have it all at your fingertips.”

“Yes, that’s the plan. Even if the body swap fails, I still have an idea of when I can go back and stop the chain of events from ever starting. I may have to sacrifice myself in the process, or go into hiding – but at least I’ll know that everyone is okay. And if my guess is correct, this future will cease to exist, and you and I will have a different tale to tell.”

Phantom nodded in approval. Byte checked and rechecked the temporal coordinates from the log entries, and set the portal parameters to match. She loaded her backpack with the DVDs, a pair of .357 pistols, ten boxes of ammo, some rations, and some tools. There wasn’t much left to do – everything was as ready as it would ever be.

Byte looked at Phantom and spoke quietly, ”When I activate the portal, I will have about five seconds to enter it before time begins to pass on the other end. If I don’t jump right away, I’ll miss the chance to intercept myself. I have set the portal to shut down 30 seconds after I jump, but that still leaves time for me – or someone else – to come back here. “

Byte handed Phantom a Trank pistol. “I doctored these trank darts to be stronger than usual. If anyone pops back out at you, shoot them first, and secure them to a chair – even if it looks like me. If that does happen, when they wake up, ask them where they are from. I will answer with ‘Transexual, Transylvania’ – that will be my code word to you so you’ll know it’s me. Any other answer – well, you’ll have to play that by ear.”

Phantom took the pistol and readied it. He looked around and said, “If you fail, I’ll be here all alone.”, and his face grew dark.

“Well, funny you should mention that”, quipped Byte, and took a DVD off the desk and handed it to Phantom. “Assuming that I fail, and that the Portal is still working, this disk contains instructions on how to reset the Portal and make a jump back to our dimension. I have outlined a few key points in the timeline that may be good for you. If you want to take a shot at going back at and stopping all of this, well, maybe you’ll have better luck than I do - if I fail. But remember – once I jump, there will be a lag until anything I change is felt in this time. If nothing changes in 24 hours, you do as you see fit.”

Phantom shook his head slowly. “I’ve seen what all of this time jumping does, and although I appreciate the offer to help fix it, I really think all I’ll do is make it worse again – or hurt more innocent people.”

“But what if by NOT jumping, you cause the harm?”, Byte offered. “What if your actions are needed to…”

“STOP IT!”, growled Phantom. “That is all conjecture. I didn’t mess this future up. I was kidnapped from my time line, and saw hundreds of people die because of your actions – yours, or your parallel self. I AM THE VICTIM HERE!”. Phantom paused, and collected himself, and then a little calmer, continued on “Look, it’s simple – you made the mess, you clean it up. Adding more people time-jumping will most likely make it worse – especially since I had nothing to do with it at all.”

Byte looked at Phantom, and reminded him of one awful truth, “If I fail, and you are all alone here, will you just live alone the rest of your life? Or do you do yourself in because you can’t handle the loneliness? Or will you go down as a fighter, and take a chance on changing your life – and not dying like a beaten mongrel?”

Phantom’s face was red, and he looked like he was ready to explode. Between gritted teeth, he gave his rebuttal: “I don’t know what I’ll do. But I do know that whatever I do, it’s something I’ll have to live – and die – with. Now, get the hell out of here before I kick the shit out of you!”

Byte smiled, “Good. Glad to see you still have some fight left in you after all! Byte stood in front of the portal, turned, and gave Phantom a salute – and held it until Phantom saluted back. Phantom hesitated at first, and then saluted in return. “I want you to know that you have my word – I will do everything I can to change this future. This is not the way it should end.”

Phantom gave a weak smile, and the last thing he said to Byte was “I hope you know what you’re doing!”

Byte flipped on the main circuits, and the room dimmed. The generators hummed and growled as the inverters and capacitors built up the charge to open the wormhole. Everything started to vibrate; a sudden and errant crackle of power made Byte jump to the left; then, with a step to right, she stood in front of the portal. She waited impatiently, with her hands on her hips and her knees in tight, for the access panel to turn green so she could jump.

Then all of the indicators went green, and she felt the wormhole open. Without looking back, she stepped forward into the iris, and was thrust into the blackness by gravitational pull.

Phantom watched her disappear, and said out loud to no one,” The waiting is going to drive me insane…”

A few moments later, Phantom felt a weird flutter, almost a ripple, all around him. Things began to change, to disappear. He looked down, and as his body began to become transparent, all he could say was “Oh, fuck.”.

Then everything faded to black…

[Alpha 15-Sept-2009 19:00]

Slinger smiled as the last diagnostic routine finished, and the portal opened up again to his home dimension. He stepped into the portal…

… and for a moment, something rippled, like a wave of water from the bow of a boat. He looked into the darkness, and saw himself getting larger, as if falling into a mirror. Time seemed to stand still, as if all time were in this moment. No matter how Slinger tried to veer away from the oncoming figure, it always followed his every move.

Byte saw her body from afar, and felt a strange attraction as they grew closer together. “This is what it felt like when we first collided”, she thought. Then it occurred to her that if they switch back again, everything in the backpack would follow this body – and not back to where she needed it. Just before they hit, she unclipped the pack from her back, and swung it out, away from her – and let it go.

Slinger felt a little panicked – the collision seemed inevitable, and now, his mirror self was taking off a backpack. Was it a bomb? Was he going to die in the wormhole – or come out as it exploded?

Before he could finish his thought, he felt the hairs on his arms stand up, and then a surge of power as his body made contact with his other self…

Byte released the pack, and felt goose bumps everywhere. She closed her eyes, and thought “Here goes nothing…”

There was a bright flash of light when their bodies passed through each other – and then everything went black.

[Gamma 15-Sept-2009 19:00]
Slinger’s body, in all of its maleness, fell through the portal and landed on the ground hard. The jolt from hitting the floor woke him up, and he realized he was back in his own dimension. IB turned around, and saw her favorite client getting up off his hands and knees. "Wow, what the hell have you been drinkin?", she asked. Still woozy, Slinger looked around, and then down at his chest and arms. “No more boobs”, he muttered. IB looked confused, not sure what to make of his statement.

Slinger stood up straight, scanned the room, and then asked,”Are we still go for the project?”. IB smiled an evil smile and replied “Sure. We have all four packages ready for delivery.”

“Good. I’ll go get the first one”, and he entered the storage room where the bombs were waiting. Usually, the lights were on in the room, but to keep prying eyes away, the lights were off, and each weapon was covered in a sheet. As Slinger walked in, the door shut behind him – and that’s when he saw the faint, green glow in the far corner of the room. He walked over to the farthest weapon, and looked under the sheet. A self-destruct timer was running – there were less than twelve minutes left! His first thought was to deactivate the timer, but it was rigged so that any interference would set it off. He looked at the setup, and thought “Only one guy I know could do this, and has a motive as well – Cooper!”

Slinger grabbed the bomb closest to the door, and wheeled it out to IB. “We have a problem”, he said .

“What? This is not the time for a problem. What’s wrong?”, she asked impatiently.

“Looks like someone put a countdown timer on #4. We have about eleven minutes before it blows. And we can’t disable the timer, or it goes off now. Nor can we use it for the project.”, he stopped to let it all sink in to IB.

She thought a moment, and said, ”Okay, lets deliver the first package locally. Then we can set up for a second drop and toss this through. Even if it goes off when it hits the ground, it’ll still do some damage. Roll #1 by the portal, and set up the altimeter trigger”

Slinger did as he was asked, and waited until the portal light went green. Then he pushed it through. “So much for NewGrounds Headquarters, right?”, he asked.

“Um…not exactly”, IB answered, and smiled so demonically it made his blood run cold.

[Gamma 15-Sept-2009 19:05:30]

Cooper watched as he saw something shiny fall out of the blackness, catching the rays of the setting sun. He watched it for a moment or two…

..and then the sky turned white, blinding Cooper. He fell in agony, and less than a second later, the sonic boom leveled the barracks, followed by a firestorm that melted everything into a puddle. Cooper never knew what hit him – and neither did anyone else in the barracks.

About ten miles away, in a jeep heading south, Coop83, Phantom and EagleRock watched as a pure-white mushroom cloud billowed over the barracks. They felt the ground rumble, and the trees shook a little as the energy wave, which was almost spent, passed over them. They were just far enough away not to be hurt by the weapon – but close enough to realize what just happened. The jeep skidded to a halt, and no one spoke.

“We are so fucked”, EagleRock announced.

“No”, Phantom said mysteriously, “I think it’s going to be okay”. EagleRock and Coop83 just stared at him in disbelief.

[Gamma 15-Sept-2009 19:05:30]
Back at the lab, Slinger turned to IB angrily and asked,”What do you mean by ‘not exactly’?”

“Well, sugar, it’s like this – they’re still a target, but they weren’t the first. You see, we had to first take out their military force …”, and she waited for Slinger to connect the mental dots.

“Military force….The EGB! You just bombed the barracks! You bastard!”, and he lunged for her.

“Actually, to be precise, it’s bitch!”, and she dove out of the way. He slammed into the control panel of the portal console, knocking a few of the dials out of place. “I don’t need you here to tell me how to run the show”, she screamed as he turned to face her once more, “I already took control of this complex, and when I’m done, I’ll be running NewGrounds city as well. You, on the other hand, will be the perfect scapegoat for everything that went wrong today!”

Slinger turned to face her. She was right in front of the portal aperture now. His only hope was to charge her, and drive her back into the portal – and then shut it down. He was fast – but she was faster. As he reached for her, she dropped into a karate stance, and using his mass against him, threw him up high – and through the open portal. It flashed some angry lightning as Slinger’s body went through unchecked.

IB looked at the console, and realized that in the scuffle, it was no longer opened to the sky above the barracks. In fact, she wasn’t quite sure where –or when – it was opened. A quick check showed that it was about three years in the future, in this timeline.

“Well, he’s out of the way, no matter how you look at it.”, she announced, and then she took a few minutes to reset the portal for the second delivery. Before she went to collect the second bomb, she opened up the communications channels, keyed into the emergency broadcast radio bands, and made an announcement:

“This is not a drill, repeat, this is not a drill. I am broadcasting this message to all troops and to all who are in range. One of the Elite Guard, Supreme Commander ByteSlinger, has taken over the Portal weapon, and is using it for personal revenge. We need assistance immediately at the Aperture Testing Annex. He must be stopped…”

But she never finished the sentence. She had been so busy fighting with Slinger, she had forgotten one little detail. The bomb Cooper set went off, leveling the Annex the same way the first one leveled the EGB.

[Gamma 15-Sept-2009 19:10:30]

Back in the Jeep, the three men heard the broadcast, and couldn’t believe what they were hearing.

“ByteSlinger using the portal for revenge? Why? Did everyone go crazy all at once?”, Phantom stammered.

Before anyone could answer him, they saw a second mushroom cloud billow from the mountainside just west of where the barracks were – and the radio message was cut off at the same time.

“Looks like Byte set that one to go off just a little bit too early”, EagleRock commented harshly.

“That’s all, folks!”, mocked Coop83.

EagleRock restarted the jeep, and headed back north, away from all of the devastation.

“Where are we going?”, Phantom asked – and then had the strangest feeling of déjà vu’

“I don’t know anymore”, EagleRock muttered. “I just don’t know”…

Just then, they felt the air ripple around them, and the Jeep stopped by itself.

“Now what?”, Coop83 asked, and looked at Phantom and EagleRock. His eyes went wide as he saw them becoming transparent, and begin to fade away. He looked at his own hand – and he was disappearing as well.

“Oh, shit…” was all he could say before all three of them, along with the jeep, disappeared.

[Gamma 22-June-2012 16:35]

Slinger rolled forward out of the portal – and into the blistering heat of the desert sun. The air was heavy, and the only sound he could hear was his own heart beating. No birds, no insects – nothing seemed to move. He looked around, and realized that he was in a valley at the base of a series of hills – and ahead, the hills seemed to flatten out a bit. He walked for about twenty minutes, until the hills became less steep. He climbed up what appeared to be a dirt path – which eventually turned into crude steps.

At the top of the hill were a church and a cemetery. The church steeple had been blown down, and a lot of the glass had been shattered. But the rest of the structure seemed intact. The cemetery was small; it had about a hundred headstones, and looked completely full, except for a decent-sized patch of unclaimed grass under an oak tree.

Slinger walked into the church, and saw that part of the roof had been torn open. The altar and the head of the church seemed to be intact, albeit a bit dusty. But no one was around. Nothing stirred at all. He explored around some more, until he found a side office that had some candles and a box of long matches. He took those with him as he left the office, and found a door leading to the basement. Lighting the candles, he went downstairs into what appeared to be a sitting room. There were more candles there, and he lit those as well. In the flickering candlelight, he noticed that on one wall there was a large, steel door with a lockable metal clasp – and the lock was gone.

He opened the door, and carefully peered inside. It was a huge storage area and work room, complete with a tool bench, hand and power tools, and a dusty generator. One wall had hundreds of boxes of freeze-dried rations, and there seemed to be a dozen or so unopened 55 gallon drums of drinkable water. There was even a cot and a few blankets in the corner.

Slinger looked down at his chronometer. It must have hit something along the way, because the faceplate was severely cracked, and nothing was displaying on the LEDs.

“Great. I have no idea where I am, or what day or time it is. But for now, I have a place to stay, and food isn’t a problem. Looks like this is the perfect place to set up base camp until I can figure out a way to get out of this mess…”

[Alpha 15-Sept-2009 19:00:05]

Byte fell forward from the portal into the semi-darkness, stumbling into crates. She stopped on her hands and knees, her heart pounding. Looking down, she saw something she hadn’t seen in months – the familiar cross-hair of her optic implant, and her cybernetic left arm.

She stood up, put her hands to her chest, and announced to the world, ”Hey! I have tits again!”, and she smiled like a fool.

It looked like it just might end up a good day after all…

[End of Chapter 12]


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Post Thu Jun 17, 2010 10:52 pm

Re: Through a Mirror Darkly - Chapter by Chapter

“Through a Mirror Darkly”

Chapter 13

“Carpe Tempus”

Originally posted on October 31st, 2009

[Alpha 15-Sept-2009 19:10]

As Aldlv and Ismael watched over the caravan being unloaded, something caught their eye in the evening sky above them. A shooting star flared across the star-filled sky, and then disappeared over the horizon.

“Haven’t seen one of those in a while”, blurted Ismael. Everyone looked up. From the courtyard, Cariboo yelled, ”Wow – here comes a few more!”

“That’s right!”, Ismael exclaimed. “Isn’t tonight the start of the Perseid meteor show event?”

“Yes, I believe you’re right.”, commented Aldlv, ”It’s the perfect night for it. They pay tribute to our fallen comrades who died today – once they were bright stars, and now, they shine no more.”

“Very poetic, my friend”, added Fro, ”And just a bit gay”, he thought to himself. He looked over the courtyard, and saw the body bags being carefully hauled away on stretchers. His heart sank as he thought how many lives were lost today – and how many more will be grieving over these deaths.

Ismael’s face was grim as he asked Aldlv, ”So, what about ByteSlinger? Is she a casualty – or a murderess? What do we know?”

“All we know is that she’s missing, and our initial investigation shows that Lizzardis was killed by a mechanical device that crushed his neck which left marks that looked like 4 fingers and a thumb from a left hand. Also, most of them were killed at short range, meaning that they most likely knew their killer. The evidence is circumstantial, but still strong enough to toss her ass in the brig until a full investigation is completed.”

“I guess the biggest question is ‘Why’?...”,started Fro, but was interrupted by the two-way radio crackling

“Krev to Commander Ismael, do you read? Over”.

Ismael picked up the two-way and answered, “Commander Ismael here. What’s up, Krev? Over.”

“You’re not going to believe this, but I just picked up ByteSlinger’s comm signature. The signal is weak, but I triangulated it - she’s in the cavern you guys just sealed! Over.”

The men looked at each other in amazement and confusion. “Are you sure it’s her signal? Over.”

“Yes, positive. I also detected an energy surge just before I picked it up. It seems that she came in through the portal – and it’s still active. Over”

“Great, just great.”, Ismael shook his head as he spoke. “Now, do we rescue her – or level the mountain on top of her?” Then he had an idea…

“Krev, can you patch in to Byte’s computer and attempt to remote access her optics? If we can see what she’s doing, maybe we can get an idea if she’s still on our side. Over”

“I’m on it, Commander. I’ll contact you as soon as I have the feed. Krev over and out.”

“This is going to be interesting.”, added Aldlv, “So, what do we do now?”

“We wait until we get the feed from Krev”, Ismael responded. “Byte is trapped under tons of rock. Anything that comes through that portal will be trapped as well. We have time to see what she does before I throw any more men into harm’s way.”

* * *

Back in the cavern, Byte used her night vision optics to find the emergency generator for the cavern’s lights and air filtration system. Once the lights were on, she had a better view of the chaos that was around her. There were discarded medical supplies everywhere, but mostly near the large, red wet spots on the floor. Walking around to get a closer look, Byte noticed that there were many spent shells on the ground near the puddles – and along the walls and crates, what looked like to be pieces of raw meat.

It became obvious that there was a shoot-out in here not too long ago, and judging from all the blood on the ground, these guys weren’t on the winning side. Then Byte noticed all of the tire marks in the dirt, and she followed them into the collapsed tunnel. “They took their dead and wounded, and shut the door behind them”, she said out loud to no one there.

“But what happened here?”, she asked herself. After a few minutes of poking around the debris, she didn’t find anything new to help her understand the day’s events, so she headed over to the computer console. “Well, it’s been a few months since I’ve seen this console – and the last one at it was SlntCobra1. Wonder what he’s doing now? “ . Byte rested her left hand on the console as she reached for the mouse with her right hand, when suddenly, the fingers on her left hand began to transform into the interface connection module, and extend toward the data port on the side of the unit.

“What the fuck?!?”, she swore out loud in complete surprise, “That’s never happened before!”. Then the floating menu in her optical implant appeared: “Portal Console Interface reconnected. Automatic administrator root login accepted. Last login was 27 minutes ago…”

Then the main access menu appeared, and she had complete control of the portal – but she didn’t know that yet.

“How the hell…I never set this up!”, and she stood still, not knowing what to do next. Then she realized the undeniable truth,” That son of a bitch who was in my body did this! He used my implants to hack into the Portal! Christ on a cracker, what the Hell else did he do?”

The first thing Byte did was run a diagnostic on her implants. Everything checked out fine, but she was surprised to see that there were hundreds of gigabytes of new data recently downloaded – and all from the Portal console! Then she checked the access logs, and found that the Portal had a built in security and communication camera, which would let the operator observe what was happening on the other side of the portal – and then communicate with the other operator as well. Whenever the console was on, the system was recording audio and video.

“I can check the video logs from the past few hours – maybe they can tell me…”, and then a loud, electronic static burst crackled through the cavern – and the portal shut down, leaving just the console functioning. A message popped up on her implant: “Warning: remote portal no longer transmitting from established coordinates. Remote contact beacon cannot be located. Portal may have been completely deactivated or possibly destroyed”

Byte figured that two of the generators had shut down, and the inverter failed. “Well, looks like this was a one-way trip after all.”. She dismissed the message, and continued her search for the security video files. A few minutes later, she found what she wanted, and started playback from about two hours ago…

She watched history unfold at fast-forward speed, slowing down when something caught her attention - From her alter ego’s actions on the console, to the attempted capture from her comrades, to the entire cavern going dark, leaving only audio – and the occasional burst of light from weapons fire. But in that light, she could see the face of the assassin who roamed the dark as if it were daylight, systematically killing everyone in the shadows of the cavern. Her right eye welled up with tears, and her heart sank. She recognized that face – it was hers! Finally, her alter ego had dispatched everyone, but at the sounds of trucks approaching, slipped away to hide in a maintenance closet. The lights came back on, and she saw the recovery team arrive. As they were examining the bodies, she watched the portal spit out pairs of Elite Guards. Some she recognized as those who were previously abducted, and others, well, they looked familiar – but out of place. She saw Idiot-Finder dive back into the Portal to try to save the three commanders, but he never came back, and the Portal shut down once more. “That’s how Coop, EagleRock and Phantom got stuck in that continuum”, she thought, “and they never made it back…But what about Idiot-Finder?”

Finally, after all of the dead and wounded were gathered, the Guardsmen retreated from the cavern, and blew the tunnel with ludicrous amounts of C4. When the dust settled, she saw her alter-ego escape from his hiding spot, come back to the portal, reprogram it, and then jump in – only to jump out a moment later and roll on the floor. Adding insult to injury was the large backpack that flew out of the portal just behind Byte that smacked the back of her head as she fell.

“Okay, that’s where I came in – the same time I left – well, the “other” I left…”, she muttered to herself, as she stopped the video playback. Still shaken from what she witnessed, she realized that as of right now, she was wanted for murder, and if she showed up at the Barracks, they would certainly make her face a firing squad – and then bring her corpse to court martial just for spite.

Byte sat down hard on the chair in front of the console, trying to figure out her next move.

* * *
Back at the Barracks, Krev monitored the signals from Byte’s implants. Byte had no idea that she was on the monitor, and Krev watched in horror as she saw the video play back, confirming that ByteSlinger was indeed a cold-hearted killer. “That bitch killed Lizz and ‘Cobra and all of my other friends, and now she’s back screwing around with the Portal. I’m not going to wait for her to strike again! There’s a debt to settle, blood for blood – and I’m going to settle it!”.

Without asking permission or telling her superiors what she was about to do (in other words, business as usual for Krev!), she headed over to the armory, and then into the tank hangers. Her security clearance gave her easy access to all of the hardware she could want. But there was one specific thing she was looking for – and she found it quite easily.

It was a heavily-modified M1A1 Abrahms tank. The armor had been reinforced with carbon-kevlar composite, which would stop any shell under 75mm dead in its tracks. The treads were made of titanium and beryllium alloy, damn near indestructible – and if they did tear off, the track gears were grooved and designed to move the tank forward even if both treads were destroyed.

Usually this tank had a single 120mm cannon on the forward turret. This one had three, all bundled together, which meant that the tank could fire three HEAT rounds simultaneously at any target stupid enough to get caught in the crosshairs. There was also talk of an experimental shell that was, in fact, a small nuclear device – but it had to be fired at least 500 yards away to avoid any contamination.

The rear of the turret had twin Browning machine guns with oversized magazines. Then on the sides of the tank, facing forward and rear, were a set of eight heat-seeking missiles that could be programmed for surface-to-air or even an intelligent flight path – they all could be visually controlled from the HUD inside the tank. If the operator could see the target, these things would track it and not stop until they hit it with extreme prejudice. As a final deterrent, there were twin flame throwers mounted front and rear, each of which would send a blistering stream of napalm over 200 feet. And every one of these weapons were controlled from inside through the various control cockpits.

Krev walked up to the tank, and ran her hand over the artwork she had added as a personal touch. It was a giant hooded cobra, poised and ready to strike. Underneath it, in stylized lettering, was the name of the proud driver: SlntCobra1

“Well, Cobra, it’s my turn to play with your bad-ass toy. I’m sure you’ll agree that she has to pay – and this baby here isn’t going to give any change back!”. Krev climbed up into the tank, secured the top hatch, and began the power up sequence.

The interior of the tank looked like the cockpit of an armored shuttlecraft. Multiple control consoles, a dozen ruggedized LCD monitors, triple-redundant computer systems, an auto-pilot interface, and even a survival AI program that could run the tank without any human involvement. All of this was accented by hand-rubbed leather seats and headrests, with black and silver trim, and a touch of blue neon to pimp it out. “And my favorite component”, Krev commented, as she powered up the 3,000 watt Bose 7.1 surround sound system. The MP3 player kicked to life, and began to play an old-school AC/DC song – “Highway to Hell”. Krev smiled, and cranked up the sound until she felt it in her teeth. “Perfect!”, she yelled, “And the volume knob goes all the way up to 11!”

Ten minutes later, the tank was ready to roll. She drove it forward, and realized that the gear shifters had been modified beyond the normal stock transmission. Ignoring the barely-audible radio dispatch requesting that she cease and desist, Krev accelerated the tank to an incredible 70 MPH! The juggernaut was flying through the now-empty courtyard, roaring like an angry dragon and leaving a trail of dust 30 feet high behind it.

In a weak attempt at slowing her down, the MPs closed the barriers and slid the chain-link fence across the access road. But the Abrahms tore through the fence like it was paper, blaring AC/DC through the external loudspeakers, and in moments, disappeared noisily into the desert.

Ismael and Aldlv witnessed the last few moments in complete awe. They looked at eachother and smiled; then Ismael said to Aldlv as they walked back to the barracks,” As far as I’m concerned, she’s taking it out for a test drive!” But they both knew the real reason why Krev did what she did – and it was something that would never find its way to a report.

* * *
In the tank, Krev held on for dear life as she used the night-vision cameras to guide her way through the foothills. She had programmed in the last known coordinates of Byte’s implants, and the onboard GPS showed that the tank would make it outside the collapsed tunnel in about ten minutes. Hopefully, Byte would still be in the cavern then – which would soon become her tomb. Until then, she sat back and grooved to the next AC/DC song, “TNT”. “Cool…”, Krev commented as she rocketed through the desert.

* * *
Back in the cavern, Byte stared at the console, the memories of the video haunting her into paralysis. “They’re all gone. And I did it. Not intentionally, but I still am responsible for their deaths. And who the hell is going to believe me that I switched bodies?”

Byte thought about the promise she made to Phantom – about how she was going to set all of this right. “But it’s not right yet! I’m not finished!”, she yelled out in frustration, her voice echoing in the empty cavern. “So, how do I make it right? What do I have to do to fix it already?”, and she put her face in her hands, drowning in agony.

After a few minutes of quiet, the answer came to her, subtle and obvious. “Yes, I know where I have to go now. Not too far back, but far enough to stop all of these events from happening!”. She checked her cybernetic arm and the DVDs she brought back for specific times and locations. Within three minutes, she had her answer.

“Yes, that will have to do”, she said out loud to confirm her spot in the continuum, and began to reconfigure the programming to create a probability portal that should land her where she wanted to go. Digging through the backpack with her right hand, she looked for the DVD with the programming parameters. “Ah, here it is!”, and she slipped it into the DVD drive on the console. The folder directory popped up in a menu on her optical display, and she located her notes.

“Shit, it’s going to take me an hour to calculate the jump parameters”, she said out loud – and then another screen popped up in front of her. “Jump parameter calculator version 0.9 beta. Enter all known data – leave all unknown fields blank.” She had triggered the calc program from the console. “Hmmm… it’s still in beta, but it’s all I got”, and using her notes, filled in what she could to define her jump destination, and pressed [ENTER]

The display popped back up as the portal began a power-up cycle. “Calculating target location and calibrating portal. Estimated time to completion: 12 minutes”. While the countdown continued, Byte began to copy her notes from the DVD into her cybernetic digital storage unit. Time felt like it was passing at a snail’s pace, but eventually, the DVD was copied, and Byte disconnected from the console. As her robotic arm transformed back into a hand, she strode over to the portal, which had yellow indicators flashing a warning that the destination was not set yet. “Come on already!”, she yelled impatiently…and then the cavern started to rumble…

Outside at the foothills of the mountain, Krev had arrived with Cobra’s tank, backed up, and took a position about 200 yards away from the collapsed entrance. She set the autoloader to fire all 30 HEAT rounds, three at a time. Then she keyed into Byte’s comm unit, and began transmitting. “Hey, bitch! I’m going to level this fuckin’ mountain and bury you alive! It’s payback time!”, and then she disconnected. Laughing maniacally, she activated the main turret, and sat back to watch the show.

Byte jumped when she heard the message from Krev. “Hey, wait…”, she tried to respond, but the signal was cut off – and Krev wasn’t listening anymore. Then the cavern rocked as high-explosive rounds tore through the mountain above her, shaking loose stalactites and dropping debris all around. Byte covered her head, and looked at the timer on the Portal. Two minutes to go!

There was a pause for about 15 seconds, and then the mountain shook again. A large chunk of ceiling collapsed near the entrance, blocking the way to the power generators and emergency breakers. More dust and dirt billowed through the cavern, and it was getting hard to see. Byte looked over at the control console – it was covered in dirt, but the programs were still running. There was a metal table near the portal entrance, and Byte hid under it for cover. “No! Not now! If I don’t make this jump now, I’ll never get the chance again to make things right!”

There was another delay and then a stronger volley of explosions. They seemed to be getting closer. A big chunk of the cavern collapsed this time, cutting off Byte from the console. She couldn’t see the screen anymore, but through the dust, the counter on the Portal was down to 1:10. What Byte didn’t know was that Krev had set the triple cannons to fire at the most optimal point on the mountain. After every volley, when the ground settled, the onboard computers on the tank would scan the mountain with radar, infrared and sonar, and analyze the weak points. Then it would reset the aim to fire at the most weakest point calculated.

Fortunately, the last assault caused a bit of a landslide, and it took more time for the ground to settle down. This delayed the onboard computer’s response, and bought Byte just the time she needed. The timer was down to 25 seconds when the next set of missiles hit. These collapsed the wall opposite the Portal, as well as the walls inside the maintenance closets. Heavy debris landed on the table above Byte’s head, crushing the top down a foot or so.

Byte wiped the dirt from her face, and looked up at the Portal. It was still counting down: 9…8…7...

Hoping that the next volley wouldn’t start in the next ten seconds, Byte stood up, kicked some dirt away from the Portal entrance, and waited for the countdown to complete. More dirt was falling in from the walls, and she could see that the cavern ceiling was now starting to slide down on top of her. “In a few minutes, all of this will be buried under tons of mountainside. It’s now or never!”, she thought to herself, her adrenaline pumping and her heart racing.

Then she heard the crackling of the Portal as it opened up, dark, murky and undulating like an angry sea. The indicators had turned to green, and the display now showed “98.2”. Without looking back, Byte dove into the portal headfirst…

* * *
[Alpha 15-Sept-2009 20:15]

Outside in the tank, Krev was watching the monitors as the mountain began to collapse. Then the air rippled around her, and there was a shift, like when the second reel of a movie kicks in, but not exactly in synch with the ending of the first.

Krev’s body wavered and disappeared, to be replaced by a different member of the EGB – who was grinning ear-to-ear as he turned the tank around and headed back towards the barracks.

It was SlntCobra1!

[End of Chapter 13]

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