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soh16 [2011/07/21 12:52] (current)
doan created
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 +Ripples of blue energy undulated from Jack, spreading out into the blackness, adding magnitude, depth and regularity to the coccoon of energy that surrounded the void, molding itself to fill in holes when it encountered them. He kept time with slow, measured wingbeats, the concentration on his beaked face intense. Even over the cacophony that the portal was making, like the hum of a fan for a computer as big as a planet, he could hear whispered voices. He imagined that it was the sound of its will. It had to be his imagination. If the breach was large enough for sound waves to travel through, he was doomed. He was remembering the voice from the battle with it, thousands of years ago. That was it. Snakebirds had long memory spans, just as they had even longer lifespans.
 +
 +Of course, there were other things that could be whispering in the darkness...
 +
 +He almost jumped out of his feathers as a pair of eyes, the same piercing blue as his own feathers, appeared behind him.
 +
 +“You shouldn't be here,” whispered Tracy, “Especially if you're afraid of the dark.”
 +
 +“I'm afraid of people sneaking up on me,” he retorted, “Especially harbingers of doom.”
 +
 +“Where's Garian?”
 +
 +“I left him at home.”
 +
 +“Because you don't want him to see what you're doing,” she said.
 +
 +“Because I don't want a clueless, insensitive bounty hunter talking to someone who annihilates entire worlds when she's in a bad mood.”
 +
 + “Leave my Parallel alone, Jack.”
 +
 +“This isn't to do with you. I'm here to fix something else.”
 +
 +“Nothing is wrong with this Parallel. Nothing gets past me.”
 +
 +“This is above your security level,” he said.
 +
 +“But if you don't tell me, how do I know I'm not accidentally doing something to make it worse?” she said, “Or I could even help you.”
 +
 +“If I need your help, I'll ask for it,” he said, “But with the 'help' you can give, it'd be a pretty dire situation.”
 +
 +“Being a last resort is so boring,” she sulked. She snapped her fingers and a flaming torch burst into life, revealing a podium upon which an obelisk should have stood. She sat down on the podium, swinging her legs and softly humming the tune to 'If I Have Another Life' under her breath.
 +
 +“Stop that, its distracting,” snapped Jack. He wasn't about to ever admit it in his lifetime, but it wasn't just her choice of song and the fact that she was staring at him like some kind of possessed doll, her eyes following his every movement, but also because her voice had an eerie beauty to it, a clarity and truth that could only come from one with the powers of prophecy. If only those were her only powers... 
 +
 +“But people go insane if there isn't a background tune!”
 +
 +“Then put a background tune on! Not 'If I Have Another Life'! Why isn't there one anyway? And why did you turn off all the lights?”
 +
 +“Oh, I've had to deactivate a lot of systems. I had to drain all the power so I could reinforce my shield,” she said, “I thought someone was trying to break in but he's gone now. He walked right past my door and kept on going.”
 +
 +“Oh, of all the... wait, who was this? Which way did they go?”
 +
 +“Where else is there to go down here in the bottom of the cycle?” she asked, “And who else ever goes there?”
 +
 +He swore and flapped his wings, “I thought I told you to inform me at once if anything happens there!”
 +
 +He quickly cut off the strands of the web of energy he had been weaving, his work coming to some kind of a close, shoddy and articial though it was. Then he created a portal and shot through it. Tracy watched the lattice vanish into the darkness, leaving behind an invisible, but much stronger, force field.
 +
 +“Um... wasn't your work absolutely critical and way more important than the kill switch to the entire Universe?” she asked nobody in particular. She made a couple of attempts to see what it is he had been doing. Whatever it was, it was devilishly difficult to unravel, even for such a rushed job, and she couldn't do so without poking a hole in the barrier, the one that triggered her fate if she even tried to think about what was on the other side. She shuddered. It made her feel sick to be so close to it, whatever it was.
 +
 +“Why is the other Parallel so much more important to you, Jack?” she asked, “Why? You didn't intervene to stop the actual end of the world from happening but you would turn back time itself to stop the other thing. What fate is worse to you?”
 +
 +“I'll never understand Snakebirds...” she concluded, sighing and wandering over to the Sphinx statue so she could lounge back on it and stretch her legs. That was her favourite place in the Ruins, because it was facing the opposite direction to the barrier and it blocked her view.
 +-------------------
 +
 +“It helps if you don't look down,” said Garian-1, his helpfulness masking his own sense of sickening vertigo that was threatening to relocate the contents of his lunch. It hadn't helped that the meal in question had mostly consisted of Jalapeno Juice. There was little to remind him that he still needed to eat, sleep and not drink so much alcohol, even in an infinite time loop, but times like these existed to bring him back to the present. That, or to lie in wait for him to become too distracted and pitch him off a hundred-foot drop at an impossible angle.
 +
 +The Silver Castle's clock tower was the bane of Garian's life. Structurally, it looked as though Kurtliegen's grandfather had employed a Chaos God as an architect and paid them - by the hour – in LSD. Garian now suspected it was the work of Snakebirds. Hanging gardens, topiaries, gazebos and fountains literally hung in mid-air without support, often at angles so geometrically unnatural that it was difficult to tell what was closer or further away, above or below the other. Judging what was a safe or unsafe jump was impossible. What looked like a short jump away could in fact be attached to the other so that you could walk across, or even directly above it. Stairs disappeared around corners and didn't reappear, or turned out to be attached to the tower directly above. Moving platforms appeared from nowhere, only to disappear into a wall, pushing their user conveniently off the edge. It was beautiful – many of the walls were made of solid silver and delicately carved in leaf filigree – but it was a beauty that hid danger and insanity, like Tracy.
 +
 +Garian hadn't known what it was to be afraid of heights until he first saw the Clock Tower. Most of his dreams were falling dreams now. The ones that weren't about drowning, or Bilan, or Lance, or a network of dreams within dreams that led him to yet another iteration of the cycle.
 +
 +Fortunately, Kurtliegen had managed to control the moving platforms for long enough to provide a short-cut to the top for them. Getting himself up there had proven more difficult, what with him being a head taller, much more clumsy, having a giant prosthetic pipe wrench slowing him down and still being fairly badly wounded, even though the machines were healing him fast.
 +
 +Glitch-Garian showed them all up by deliberately falling through the sky and landing on the roof of the top tower. He sat there and waited for them all to turn up.
 +
 +“This isn't a game!” Kurtliegen reprimanded him, “Bilan might still have been there. You'd never have survived against him by yourself.”
 +
 +“I could have put on all four rings,” he shrugged, ”Or just escaped in the same way.”
 +
 +“You'd still have failed the overall mission,” he said, “This isn't about killing Bilan or controlling him. You must only perform the roles you're assigned.”
 +
 +“If Kurtliegen's giving you advice on how to work with others, you must have done something really wrong!” commented Garian-1, earning him a glare.
 +
 +“So...” said Garian-2, pointing towards the peak of Mount Mejourna, “You said Bilan went over there, evolved into M-Bilan and then took off into the sky?”
 +
 +“Not into M-Bilan,” said Kurtliegen, walking up to the cliff and waving for them all to follow. In the middle of a snowdrift was a pile of dark green slime and shattered bone, “He has another evolutionary form. See that? Its where he shed his skin. I think the Bilan we see is actually a two-stage larval form, taking an immense amount of energy to break out of.”
 +
 +“Meaning we've been getting our asses kicked by a baby Bilan,” said glitch-Garian, before bursting into laughter.
 +
 +“I could fly up there and check, so you don't waste your time building in the wrong place,” volunteered Perdix.
 +
 +“Be careful,” said Garian-2.
 +
 +“Don't worry about me,” said the bird, before soaring into the sky. They watched her rise higher into the clouds before disappearing from view altogether. Kurtliegen began collecting together his small fleet of moving platforms. As they moved through the prison, more of them had flocked to join him, giving him the appearance of a grumpy, mechanical mother bird. They distracted themselves from the constant threat of accidentally looking down by helping to collect the platforms together, checking their weapons and collating all the information they had gathered until Perdix re-appeared.
 +
 +“Any sign of Bilan?” asked Garian-2.
 +
 +The bird shook her head, “There's definitely something up there, though. It might be worth investigating.”
 +
 +“Lead me to it,” said Kurtliegen, “I'm going to need the Nothing and the bridge key card now, I'm afraid.”
 +
 +Glitch-Garian reluctantly handed over the items. As he let go of them, the aura of static around him thinned slightly and Kurtliegen's image began to break up around the edges, as though he was no longer entirely in this world. Although it wasn't making much of a difference, over a prolonged period of time, the Warden would become the same as Glitch-Garian was. Hopefully the effect would wear off from Garian himself but it might already be too late.
 +
 +“What about the Bilanium?”
 +
 +“I'm... not sure what that's for. Its probably not a good idea to wave it around with a highly evolved Bilan running around.”
 +
 +“Meaning that you want me to carry it, so he eats me, not you?”
 +
 +Instead of answering, the Warden stepped closer to the cliff and raised his hand, holding the key card aloft. The platforms floated up and moved into place, creating a bridge in the sky.
 +
 +“I hope it'll be enough, but if not, these things can move while we're on them.” he said, “The only problem is going to be if we move towards the boundaries of the prison. I'll start losing power.”
 +
 +“Knowing how this place works, that's probably not the worst that would happen,” said Garian.
 +
 +“What we're looking for won't be outside the prison anyway,” said Perdix, “So we'll be safe in keeping well away from the edges.”
 +
 +Garian-2 went first, followed by glitch-Garian and Perdix, then Garian-1, then Kurtliegen. The Warden claimed to be lagging behind so he could concentrate solely on controlling the bridge but Garian-1 suspected he was planning to use the rest of them as human shields if Bilan did re-appear. Still, the bridge wasn't entirely stable – the platforms did move slightly every now and then, usually when Garian-2 was about to put his foot down on them, so they didn't interrupt the Warden.
 +
 +“What the hell is that?” demanded Garian-2, pointing to the thing that loomed above them. They were higher than the clouds now and the humans who weren't wired to life-support systems were having difficulty breathing. Garian-2 wondered if he was hallucinating the object. It was roughly spherical and made of rock, with mechanical panels protruding from it. It glowed green from thousands of cracks in its shell.
 +
 +“It looks a little like the meteorite I saw,” said the Warden, “I suppose it wasn't really a meteorite, or it wouldn't have slowed down and stopped like that. Its not even in orbit around anything.”
 +
 +“Unless its trapped by the fieldaround the prison,” Garian-2 pointed out.
 +
 +“There's a strong Bilanium reading from it,” said Perdix, flying closer to examine it, “Only the outer shell is natural. It looks like it was supposed to be hidden in an asteroid field. There's a locked door in the middle of it.”
 +
 +The platforms re-arranged themselves so that Kurtliegen could step forwards, a process that involved Garian-2's platform suddenly dropping down several metres and then another platform hitting him on the head. He tried the bridge pass key, then several keys on his key chain, before cursing and glaring at the display screen.
 +
 +“What's the matter, can't he get in after all?” asked Garian-2.
 +
 +“Its been locked down to all security levels. Something about a dangerous process going on in there,” said Perdix.
 +
 +“Could it be that Bilan's in there?”
 +
 +“Maybe. Whatever the case, we're too late.”
 +
 +“So we've come up all this for way for nothing?” asked Garian-2, “Or is this a thing we can go back and try again, in a different Parallel?”
 +
 +“It does say that its still unlockable somewhere. I guess it could be a different Parallel,” she said. Unlike the other birds, she didn't really understand the Parallel system. The way she moved, through the spaces that shouldn't exist, didn't require her to travel through the Parallels. Her space had existed before the boundaries had been put in place. “Does 'Two Alternate Alpha' mean anything to you?”
 +
 +“Well, 'two' is what we call the one triggered by being on time... I have no idea what 'Alternate Alpha' is meant to be...” he mused, “Unless... oh Hell...”
 +
 +“Hm?”
 +
 +“There are... things hidden... in Parallel Two... things you can do to make it go wrong. If they were put there intentionally, I guess you could call them 'alternate' Parallels...”
 +
 +“We can't go there on a whim! Not unless we're really sure!” said Garian-1, “And then we should double check that we're absolutely sure!”
 +
 +“I know what you're thinking of, and you're right, we should stay well away from it,” said Kurtliegen. Garian-2 jumped. He hadn't seen the platform appear behind him. It made him uneasy that they were so dependent on the psychopath right now. He could easily send them plummeting to their deaths, “But you're not thinking about the other possibility. That what we're looking for is in the other Parallel next door.”
 +
 +“That one? But we can't even stay in that one without being thrown back in time!”
 +
 +“By Jack. But when was the last time we saw Jack? He might not be there.”
 +
 +“Jack used an absolute time loop? He's not authorised to do that except in very severe emergencies!” said Perdix, “Apart from Kaiser, he's the only bird authorised to use them at all. What the hell is he keeping from us?”
 +
 +“You should have seen what he decided NOT to use it on!” commented Garian-2.
 +
 +“Its entirely possible that he's not trying to keep you out, you know,” said Kurtliegen, “You weren't the only one there at the time. He could be trying to keep out Carbon Garian... or Tracy... or even me.”
 +
 +“Why would he care about YOU?” asked Garian-2, “Why does it all make so much difference,damn it? All I did was say 'yes' instead of 'no'... told the truth instead of lied... made one girl unhappy in a way that apparently makes girls go into murderous rages...”
 +
 +“You shouldn't make girls unhappy, Garian,” Perdix chastised him, “Wait a minute... Tracy?”
 +
 +“His girlfriend's sister,” explained Kurtliegen.
 +
 +“Kay is not my girlfriend!” Garian snapped, his face red, “She is the trigger of nearly EVERYTHING that goes wrong!”
 +
 +“Tracy and Kay?” asked Perdix, “You're talking about Total Reality Annexe: Code Yellow... and Kill All:Yes?”
 +
 +“Um...” said Garian.
 +
 +“And you triggered them?” she asked, “And Jack LET you?”
 +
 +“Gentlemen... I've been trying to avoid this for as long as possible, but I need to have a few firm words with Jack.”
 +
 +“Oh, can I help? I know what to say to piss him off!” volunteered Garian.
 +
 +“Ah, but you don't know what to say to make him tell the truth,” said Regina, “And you don't know where he is.”
 +
 +“And you do?”
 +
 +“If he's hiding what I think he's hiding? He better damn well be guarding it!”
 
soh16.txt · Last modified: 2011/07/21 12:52 by doan
 
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