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soh18 [2011/07/26 22:53] (current)
doan created
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 +Kurtliegen opened his eyes to find himself being roughly shaken awake by Tracy. Despite the frail look about her, as though she was about to disappear from existence along with everything she saw, like a dreamer awaking from sleep, her grip was easily as strong as Lance's. The Vice Warden had only grabbed him to stop him beating a Government inspector to death at a diplomatically inappropriate moment. Tracy certainly had no reason to help him. Was she going to murder him? It occurred to him that maybe he should have treated the women in his life better.
 +
 +“Get up!” she ordered, fixing him a wild stare, clearly liberated from the constraints of sanity, “I know you can move again!”
 +
 +He groaned and rolled over, cursing the impracticality of his prosthetic limb. While the Hand of Retribution looked impressive and was excellent for beating people to death and electrocuting them, as well as getting the tops off jars and demonstrating for the fifteenth time today how to safely mine Bilanium, it was top-heavy and slightly cross-wired. He could have bought himself some up-to-date cybernetics but that would have jarred against his traditionalist sensibilities.
 +
 +“We don't have time for this! They'll come and find us!” she stared at him, then grabbed him by his shoulders and unceremoniously hauled him to his feet. She then pointed to a moving platform that was hovering at his not-well-insulated-enough heels like a faithful, rectangular, levitating dog.
 +
 +He remembered now. The birds had done something to stop him moving. He watched the big black one talk, then respond to the others as though they were talking, even though they couldn't move either. Talking without moving, just like he could with his neural link to the prison. He had spoken to the walls. For a long distance, they had told him they couldn't move either, then he had found a machine outside the radius of the effect. The wires and the moving platforms had come and dragged him out of danger.
 +
 +He was in the middle of the Centre Park, near where he knew damn well that J.J. City was. He was a frequent customer in Bar Stalker and they hadn't noticed. When he stepped onto the moving platform again, it moved him away from the entrance to the secret underground city, towards one of the other houses. The door was open, as was a trapdoor in the middle of the floor that led down into a tunnel. For a long time, there was no indication of where he was going, only the low hum of the platforms and endless identical tunnels. His mental map of the prison, built mostly from memory and experience, partly from the neural link that was beaming him information on the status of all the systems he went past. They went underneath Deadman's Castle, passed by the laboratory, which he had closed down a few weeks ago, briefly crossed the mines, then went out towards the Silver Castle. His companion was silent, staring into nothingness, a worried look on her face. The Snakebirds were probably looking for him even now. He wasn't going to miss his one chance to find out what it was that had been hidden to him. He suspected she knew more than he did about what was going on but didn't want to risk her telling him what she was seeing.
 +
 +When he emerged, he was at the edge of the Silver Clock Tower again. The ninja woman had none of the difficulties that he did in keeping his balance and she didn't seem interested in waiting for him to catch up. He instead made his own path of moving platforms. He had been refining his control over them and he trusted them more than he did his own body, which was older and replaced less often. Soon, he heard the machines of the Carbon Room call out to him. They were his favourite machines in the entire prison. He polished them every day until he could see his face in their panels. They seemed restless today. There was something happening in the prison behind his back again. It rankled against him that he couldn't go and find out what it was, but this was far more important.
 +
 +“Copper for physical functions,” he muttered to himself as he placed the rings on his finger like a mad scientist halfway through a custom-built marriage ceremony, “Gold for cellular structure. Silver for neural pathways... Nothing for what? Tracy, do you know how these work? What's left after physical, mental, sub-molecular? Knowing this place, probably temporal... or narrative...”
 +
 +“You're going through the floor,” she reminded him. He swore and pulled his foot back out of the platform. He didn't notice the static build-up that pre-empted the adverse effects of wearing the Nothing. He thought it was his prosthetic arm playing up again. Shaking his head, he pointed up to the sky and watched the bridge form. He felt light-headed as he ascended the stairway of platforms. The wind blew against his face. The storms that lit the Island's skies, heavy with portent, left an electric taste in the air. He saw the boundaries of the Island outlined in a network of blue lines that met the horizon and carried on above and below in a sphere. He took the Passage Way from his pocket and placed the card against the electronic lock.
 +
 +WELCOME, WARDEN, said the display. Then there was a click as the door opened for him. Tracy made her way in as well. The click sounded louder when the door closed behind them, leaving them in the dark. After a few seconds, blue and red lights flickered on all around them as machines started up. He was in some kind of control room. He sat down at the comfortable-looking leather chair in the middle of the panels that filled the room and examined the display screen in front of him, in-between several maps of the Island, one virtual and showing some kind of blips, one aerial, a few security cameras showing him different areas of the prison.
 +
 +PLEASE INPUT COMMAND, said the computer.
 +
 +“Where is Bilan?” he asked out loud, unsure how to talk to strange computers.
 +
 +BINARY LOGIC ABSOLUTE NEGATOR POWERED UP AND READY FOR USE.
 +
 +“Um...” he looked at Tracy, “Does this thing have a manual?”
 +
 +She walked towards the computer and took a single blue rose from her hair. Releasing her fingers from around it, it floated into the air and landed so that its stalk slid into a hatch on the side of the terminal.
 +
 +ACKNOWLEDGED. KILL ALL: YES NOT DETECTED. WARNING: TOTAL REALITY ANNEXE INTERFACE POSSIBLE.
 +
 +“What are you doing?” demanded Kurtliegen.
 +
 +“Shutting down a deadman's switch,” she explained, “Computer, acknowledge presence of Total Reality Annexe: Code Yellow.”
 +
 +ACKNOWLEDGED. WARNING: REALLY ENGAGE?
 +
 +“Engage,” she said.
 +
 +Red and blue lines of light filled the display, connecting every meter to every other.
 +
 +“There you go, Warden. You now have the control over the prison that you requested,” she said, sounding like one of those genies that did their best to misinterpret wishes to involve killing as many people as possible.
 +
 +“But what am I supposed to do?”
 +
 +“Your job. What you've been waiting to do for a long time now, but the Negator hasn't existed yet and there hasn't been enough power to do so, and the satellite hasn't been in orbit. You're going to execute it. The Enemy.”
 +
 +“You mean...?”
 +
 +“And then Total Reality Annexe can come to an end. Without the Kill Switch being turned back on, and activated. I can be free of what I am, and you can be what you were born to be.”
 +
 +The Warden stared at the controls.
 +
 +“... activate Bilan?” he guessed.
 +
 +PLEASE INSERT ALL FOUR CONTROL KEYS, ONE AFTER THE OTHER.
 +
 +A panel slid away just below the display and four small cylinders rose from it. He took off the Copper Ring and placed it around the first cylinder. It immediately slid back into its alcove, the computer chimed and a green circle appeared below the text on the screen. He took off the golden and silver rings next. Tracy's eyes were sad as she watched the silver ring disappear. He didn't feel so good himself. The rush of power had disappeared. He couldn't sense the walls around him so well any more. He was suspended in the sky, a long way up from the walls, with only clear blue around him. Even though he knew the barriers were in place, he didn't feel safe. Still, this was the true heart of the machine. He belonged here.
 +
 +He took off the Nothing...
 +
 +Something grabbed the fourth ring from his hand, he was thrown backwards across the room and Tracy screamed, all simultaneously. His vision swam as he hit his head hard on the door frame.. He had taken worse blows. Standing up, he fixed his best scowl at his assailant. Sean stood in front of him, arms folded, a cruel smirk on his face. Beside him, Meg lounged on the chair, playing with something between her fingers.The Nothing.
 +
 +“Thought you might be here,” said Sean, “Didn't I tell you, sister?”
 +
 +“Isn't she beautiful?” commented Meg, “Tracy. A living, future-annihilating tool. Perfect destruction. A tool like this could destroy the entire Universe now you've taken its restraints away, but you don't even know how. That's why the future isn't yours. The True Ending, Parallel Zero, is upon us. The Hunt for the Nothing is over.”
 +
 +She grasped the ring in her hand and closed her eyes, as if in prayer.
 +
 +“Nothing to Nothing,” she said, then in ancient Lavian, “Deel Klesso ma Hahm!”
 +
 +Tracy opened her mouth to scream again, then she was engulfed in a darkness more absolute than any absence of light – more an absence of information, of existence in its entirety, except alive, with a will to erase more. A flame of darkness. The world was catching fire, its very data consumed.
 +
 +“NOT IN MY PRISON!” yelled Kurtliegen, hurling himself at Sean and lashing out with his mechanical arm. He managed to push the man back, although the crushing pain in his chest told him that he had been hit too. It no longer mattered. He took the Bilanium from his pocket and pressed it against the computer.
 +
 +There was a beep. A panel slid open. His fingers relaxed their grip and the Bilanium disappeared.
 +
 +WARNING: SYSTEM OVERLOADED. NEGATOR UNSTABLE.
 +
 +-----------------
 +
 +As soon as Garian-2 was released from the spell, he began running.
 +
 +The explosion that rocked the entire Island, along with a noise not unlike a supersonic jet flying too close, had damaged the foundations of the ruins. The whole structure was beginning to collapse around him. He saw the Snakebirds, still engrossed in their heated argument, barely noticing as chunks of masonry bounced off their force fields. At least they weren't trying to kill each other any more. Now they could all move, they were talking out loud, all at once. As far as he could tell, the argument was about whether Perdix was guilty of some unforgivable crime, and whether Jack was hiding something. Garian-2 could have verified the last one for them without going into so much debate. The bird held more secrets than a schoolgirl's diary.
 +
 +He managed to jump onto the ladder and haul himself up. The other two Garians were right behind him. He had seen the Warden escape earlier on – it had been the reason why the Snakebirds had released him from the spell. Jack had rushed off to apprehend the man, then returned five minutes later saying that he had failed- Kurtliegen was beyond his reach. Kaiser had sharply reprimanded him, then the argument began again. He didn't particularly care where the Warden had gone off to – like the other two birds, he wanted some answers out of Jack. Like a master of the art of lying, he evaded their questions, giving meaningless responses, trying to divert the flow of the conversation. Even when he said something that got a response out of the Snakebirds, it was in technical jargon that Garian had no hope of understanding.
 +
 +Fresh air came as a relief to him. For a few minutes, he lay in the grass, taking deep breaths. The sky had already grown dark. In fact, much darker than he remembered it could get on the Island. Had he really been in the ruins for that long, or was he later on in the 'ruins' of his own personal timeline than he thought?
 +
 +Glitch-Garian cried out and pointed to the sky. Garian-2 looked up. Hanging over the Silver Clock Tower was a sphere of pure darkness. In the middle of it, floating as if buffetted by dark winds, was Tracy. It no longer looked like her – it was a roughly female-shaped apparition of dark fire, its hair a single, rippling flame, its eyes two red dots on a blank canvas.
 +
 +“Tracy?” he asked.
 +
 +“Its the Spirit of the Nothing,” glitch-Garian whispered.
 +
 +“What on Earth is that?” asked Garian-1, pointing to another spherical object next to the aura around Tracy. It was smaller and glowed bright green. As they watched, it rose higher into the sky until it was almost invisible.
 +
 +“That? Its our last chance of victory, flying away.” said Jack, flapping his own wings to emphasise his point.
 +
 +“You know, it would be really helpful if you told me what the hell you were going on about,” said Garian-2.
 +
 +“We're almost at base camp. We'll be safe to talk, out of the way of prying eyes.” said Kaiser, “So you're going to explain everything, aren't you, Jack?”
 +
 +“You're going to just let her in?” Jack indicated Perdix.
 +
 +“The machines will pick up signs of infection immediately. We've also got containment units there. Its the safest place for her to be.”
 +
 +“The safest place for her to be is DELETED!” he said, earning him a hiss from Perdix.
 +
 +“There's a deletion machine in there as well.”
 +
 +Jack fluttered in exasperation but followed the other bird anyway. They went into one of the houses, then Kaiser perched on top of a lever and pulled it down. The floor rumbled and started descending.  They found themselves back in their laboratory.
 +
 +“Regina, you back?” yelled Kaiser. There was no response. He flapped his wings in a shrug, then led Perdix over to the machines. While the data memory archives flashed up an 'unreadable' warning, the paradox detectors went berserk and she clipped straight through the timeline display machine, the radar that picked up infection responded completely in the negative. The breach that Jack had patched up was also gone.
 +
 +“See? I'm clear!” she glared at Jack, who clicked his beak at her and settled on his favourite perch. Kaiser performed a couple more tests on her while the Garians stared at the machines all around them. Had this place existed the whole time without them realising it? How closely had the damn birds been watching Garian?
 +
 +“Welcome back, Perdix Snakebird,” said Kaiser, “Every Snakebird is unique and irreplaceable. Because of our near immortal lifespans and lack of serious threats to our existence, we haven't adapted to breed often. To lose a fellow Snakebird is a rare occurrence and a heavy blow. To find a lost one again is rarer still and an even greater joy.”
 +
 +“Thank you, Kaiser.”
 +
 +“I'm glad we won't lose you as well,” said glitch-Garian, “You kept me company all that time when I couldn't interact with the rest of the world. You helped me when I had no idea what was happening to me. You're the best companion a Bounty Hunter can have.”
 +
 +Garian-1 snorted, “You say that in ten years when they're following you EVERYWHERE and have the Agency spying on your every move!”
 +
 +“Talking of Jack, I think you owe us all an apology. And an explanation.” said Kaiser, “What were you doing here and why are you acting like its the end of the world?”
 +
 +“In terms an idiot human can understand.” said Garian-2.
 +
 +Jack sighed, “Okay. You've told about the battle with the Enemy and how we imprisoned it on this Island, right?”
 +
 +He nodded, “I don't really understand it, but I get the gist. This Island's always had this weird time loop you can't get out of, so you turned it into a really big prison for a really dangerous convict.”
 +
 +“That's right. When we did manage to fully imprison it, though, we realised there was no way to execute it. The Enemy was still straining against its bonds. We were worried it would eventually manage to break free of even the time loop,” said Jack, “So we put three emergency systems in place. The first was called 'Total Reality Annexe: Code Yellow' or 'Tracy'. Its...basically, think of it as a really large scale version of your Capture ability. Big enough to go around the entire Island. Actually,  a naturally occuring version of the Capture ability is what causes the time loop anyway. We synthesised the ability from such time loops...”
 +
 +“Don't get off track.” ordered Kaiser.
 +
 +“Anyway, the Council almost voted not to use the system because it was so dangerous. In fact, Perdix would have swayed the Council's decision against it,” he looked briefly around at the yellow bird, whose vitriolic glare confirmed what he was saying, “Not only would it completely remove the Island from the causality flow of the Universe, it would create the only logical sequence of events that would permanently shear off every causal pathway... a Magnitude 6 Bad Ending. It would doom everyone inside. The third danger... is to do with how it could interact with the second system. The Kill Switch.”
 +
 +“Kill All:Yes, or 'Kay' for short,” said Perdix, “Something I also voted against using.”
 +
 +“Its a deadman's switch. The 'Kay' switch remains on at all times. If it is ever turned off, the local space-time continuum is completely erased.,” said Jack, “Deleting something permanently from causality has such far-reaching and largely unknown effects that, while all Snakebirds can do it, they only resort to it in an absolute emergency – in other words, if it is inevitable that the Enemy will escape. What's worse, there's a... loophole. If the Kill Switch is triggered and the Annexe doesn't trigger afterwards, the Kill Switch will deem it possible that the Enemy is not on the Island. It will erase every sector of causality that it thinks might contain the Enemy. In other words...”
 +
 +“The whole Universe?” asked Garian-1. The bird nodded gravely, then fluttered his wings in the avian equivalent of a shudder.
 +
 +“Why would you build in such a crappy loophole?” asked Garian-2.
 +
 +“Believe me, its better than the Enemy escaping,” said Kaiser, “Anyway, we understand this... we thought that was the reason you were spending so much time worrying about the Parallels we stored  the two systems in. We knew Garian had broken into the two systems and messed with them. We thought you were just keeping him out. But then we worked out you were keeping Kurtliegen out, not Garian.”
 +
 +“Before I explain that, let me tell you about the third system we put in place,” said Jack, “We only finished it the day before Bilan was to be sent to the Island. The Binary Logic Absolute Negator. You already know that Bilan was originally developed as a weapon.”
 +
 +“Yeah, if you tell me it was Snakebirds who came up with that bright idea, I'm gonna clip your wings,” growled Garian-2.
 +
 +“I'm afraid we did, in a way. But Bilan was not 'made', he already existed in the wild, on another planet. A planet already dangerous enough to survive having Bilans roaming free. We simply noticed that he had properties that other life-forms didn't, properties that made him capable of killing pretty much anything, and we decided to introduce him to this planet. Not as a weapon of war, but as a method of execution. To execute the Enemy.”
 +
 +“You have to understand that Bilan was meant to be absolutely contained. There was almost no way it couldn't have gone to plan. However, despite our extensive research, there were two things we couldn't have known,” said Jack, “One... that Bilan could absorb more energy than he needed to be powerful enough to execute the Enemy, even though there is no need for him to, from an evolutionary point of view. Two... that Bilan was sentient, conscious and possibly more intelligent than a Snakebird. He escaped because we had no idea he understood enough to escape.”
 +
 +“... I told you Bilan has feelings,” Garian-1 said to his clone.
 +
 +“I still don't see what this has to do with the Warden,” said Garian-2, ignoring him, “If you wanted to execute someone, surely he's the one person you should be letting in? He loves executing people, and it is kinda his job.”
 +
 +“We were planning to have Kurtliegen hit the switch, and in fact he is the only one on the Island apart from Kaiser and the autopilot on the systems themselves who has any authority to activate them,” said Jack, “They won't even let me do it. However, that changed... when we learnt that DeBose Schumizer was executed.”
 +
 +“DeBose?” said Garian-1. “His execution was unauthorised, right? Were you worried Kurt would execute the Enemy without permission, too?”
 +
 +“Its more complicated than that. Understand that DeBose was originally quite a high-ranking figure in the Agency. He was originally going to be the Warden,” said Jack, “It was the day after he reached the Island that he suddenly became violent and started trying to sabotage the operation. He killed ten Class-A Bounty Hunters before he could be restrained.”
 +
 +“Yeah, I heard about that. Glad I wasn't on the team.”
 +
 +“He was sentenced to indefinite life imprisonment, not execution. Do you know why? Because we specifically didn't want him near the Carbon Freeze prisoners!” said Jack, “We had heard rumours that cryogenically frozen prisoners displayed signs of consciousness and that psychic prisoners may have formed some kind of system of communication. We began hearing reports of 'haunting'-like phenomena around the prisoners. We didn't want someone who may have some or all the access codes being allowed near powerful telepaths determined to take control of the prison!”
 +
 +“So, you were keeping DeBose out, not Kurtliegen?”
 +
 +“I was keeping out anyone who could have access to the control systems. My plan was to change them so they would be completely automated. I was about to finish this job when Perdix attacked me. I had even sealed away one of the control keys... which Perdix dug up again and handed straight to Kurtliegen!”
 +
 +“My fault again,” said Garian-2, “Sorry.”
 +
 +“Its a bit late to be sorry. The Kill Switch is gone. The Reality Annexe is out of control. The Negator is offline. Someone overloaded it on purpose. It shouldn't even be possible to overload it.”
 +
 +“Do you overload Bilan using Bilanium?” asked glitch-Garian, “'Cause I found some extra...”
 +
 +“Why would any of us have extra Bilanium lying around?” snapped Jack, “Is this an experiment I haven't been told about? Let's see what happens if we break the machines?”
 +
 +“Some of the unused sectors have always been unused. Even we don't know what they're for.” Kaiser reminded him, “There's actually quite a lot on this Island we're still unsure of.”
 +
 +“Does it matter when the Universe is about to end?”
 +
 +“You've been saying that for the past half hour, Jack, but I see no sign that the Universe has ended,” Kaiser pointed out, “So either you're still hiding something or you don't know as much as you think you do.”
 +
 +“There's... a couple more things I know. I'm not sure if they're completely accurate, though, and there's information that I suspect may contain a viral suggestion.”
 +
 +“Don't give me that crap!” yelled Perdix.
 +
 +“I'm telling the truth! This information was the last thing DeBose found out before he started acting weird!”
 +
 +“We couldn't find out anything about the DeBose case, Jack, you know that!”
 +
 +Suddenly, there was a loud rumble from behind them as the floor mechanism started up again. Another bird flew in.
 +
 +“Regina? Where's...”
 +
 +“Get out! Tracy's headed right for us!” she yelled, interrupting Kaiser.
 +
 +“Can she get in here?”
 +
 +“She's deleting entire sectors at a time!”
 +
 +“We can't just let her...”
 +
 +All the alarms in the room went off at once, except for the Enemy infestation alarm. Meaningless numbers filled the display screens and the needles on the meters jumped wildly from one end to the other, some of them breaking down entirely. Smoke poured from the paradox meter.
 +
 +The birds flapped their wings in unison. The lights that flashed on and off were blinding, alternating between each colour of bird. Garian-2's last thought before he lost consciousness was that Kaiser's feathers weren't actually black, if you looked carefully under the light, they contained speckles of all sorts of colours, like the stars in the night sky.
 
soh18.txt · Last modified: 2011/07/26 22:53 by doan
 
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