April 17, 2010
4Sworn, Session Six
Acting on the Saturn-Uranus Anomaly
"How important is this," Victorine asked in a quiet voice. The others turned to face her, but she stared at a scratch on the conference table's surface without returning their gaze for a long time. When she did, she also asked, "Are people going to die if we don't have answers?"
Psion pursed his lips as he considered his response. "Something massive is heading towards this solar system. We have the means to stop it if we need to, but we can't take drastic measures without knowing the intentions of the object coming here."
"It didn't answer our signal," Shockwave pointed out. "It's hostile. We should kill it."
"It may not have heard our signal. It may not have been paying attention to the frequencies and methods we used. There are many explanations for the lack of a reply besides hostile intent."
Victorine nodded, "So we need to know what will happen when they come through. I can help with that."
Psion and Zap exchanged glances and the latter asked, "Why do you sound so serious?"
"Because peering through my cloak and looking at other dimensions, it's easy to get lost in the foam of so many other realities. Once I've found one to study, it isn't a simple thing to come back."
"Can we tie a lifeline to you or guide you back with my telepathy?"
The woman forced a tight-lipped smile and shook her head. "It doesn't work like that." She took a deep breath and raised her cloak, "I'll be right back," but muttered 'I hope' only to herself.
Victorine Travels to a Neighboring Reality
Deep in space, in a universe where only the rate of time's passage distinguished it from our own, the nearest world was a ringed gas giant millions of kilometers distant with no obvious differences from any other point of light in the black sky. Victorine observed as a brilliant flash erupted from nowhere and an expanding ring of exotic particles faded. At its center, a manta-ray-shaped space ship lurched and arced away, changing course and heading deeper into the Solar System ... towards Earth. Protected from the harsh environment of space by a 30th century "flight ring" she'd scavenged from an alternate reality, Victorine pursued, an unseen witness as the alien craft shuddered closer and closer to the planet. The vessel was in obvious distress, with sputtering conduits flashing and pieces blown off by internal forces several times during its journey.
As it entered the Earth's atmosphere on the night side, bigger pieces fell away in a blast of re-entry plasma. Several smaller pods appeared to be ejected, but Victorine pursued the main craft as it neared the surface. An enormous flash, so brilliant it lit the sky bright as day and nearly blinded her, erupted near the craft, and the ship plunged violently into the ocean. For the first time, as alien metal hit the water, she had a reliable sense of the craft's size and estimated it to be about as big as a football field.
Down into the ocean's depths, the hulk sank, leaving a trail of bubbles that Victorine followed using illumination from her power band to relieve the gloom. At last, she reached the bottom and swept her light across the wreck. As bright as the beams were, and even tuned to a blue-green hue to better penetrate ocean water, her light couldn't reach the full extent of the ship's size. [I've eliminated the business of Victorine changing into a shark form and then back to a human here]
Victorine swam slowly around the ship, examining it as bubbles continued to cascade up into the darkness and sediment settled. She gathered samples from the ocean floor and a few pieces of metal, then found a fissure in the hull large enough to enter.
The corridor was a long, pentagonal tube lined with extrusions and seemed to extend the length of the ship. She moved slowly along its length until it widened into a larger volume, with three of its walls continuing further. The larger volume, perhaps an engine room, was riddled with curving structures that reached from floor to walls to ceiling. Floating in the water as she was, she could easily swim through the supports, but she'd hate to have to walk or run through the labyrinth. Here and there, instrumentation and consoles dotted the walls and ceiling with little regard for up and down.
As she moved further back, she found a closed hatch and forced it open. A fusillade of bubbles erupted, and the room beyond was filled with angry, red light. Mechanical groans hammered at her ears. "Oh, this isn't good," Victorine thought to herself. "Something's about to explode!"
She swam free of the hulk, then tumbled back through her cloak. Within, uncountable possible destinations presented themselves to her. The alternate realities swarmed around her like a kaleidoscope with little to distinguish one from another save Victorine's instinct and bond with her family. The tenuous path led back to her home, however, and she re-emerged in the Mission Room on the Firehawk.
Wide-eyed and breathless, she sank back into her chair with relief and closed her eyes for a moment.
Shockwave snatched a glass from the tray in the center of the table and filled it with water. She pushed it to Victorine who accepted it with a grateful nod. As she sipped, she collected her thoughts and told everyone what she'd seen.
"Extraordinary," said Psion. "Do you know where you were?"
She shook her head. "No, it was dark and I didn't recognize any land masses as we came down. I did bring back some mud samples from the bottom and this debris from the ship." She put the samples on the table. "I tried to check my location with my SSC, but the watch didn't pick up GPS or any other satellite signals. Sorry."
"I guess they don't use the same protocols wherever she was," Zap suggested.
"Maybe. But there's something else that puzzles me about this," said Victorine. "Psion, you said the object coming through was supposed to be the size of a planet. This thing was big, but it wasn't that big."
Psion nodded as he turned the debris samples over in his hand. "Indeed. And this metal appears to be a low-density composite. It's probable the ship was less massive than we'd think. Victorine, this is important, did you notice any details that might tell us when this craft fell to Earth?"
"I might have seen some stars. Can you guess from that?"
"I might. Would you consent to a mind meld?"
"Sure, if it'll help!"
Psion raised a telepathic switchboard with Shockwave and Zap to include them on his investigation, then he wrapped his hands around Victorine's skull, nearly encircling it with his fingers. He gently massaged her forehead with his thumbs and quietly prodded her, "Focus on your breathing. The rise and fall of your chest. Feel your heart beat and clear your mind. Relax. Relax."
The heroes found themselves in a psychic recreation of Victorine's investigation. They followed the crippled spaceship with her until Psion found a useful memory ... a brief glance back up at the night sky containing recognizable constellations. The four of them stood together on an imaginary floor over the night-time ocean, looking back up at the stars while Psion manipulated the memory to extract a time and date. But Zap looked back down and cocked his head sideways. Then a little bit more. He stepped up to Victorine in the reconstruction and raised her wrist. "Hey, genius! Take a look at what her watch says."
Psion looked away from the sky and glanced at the glowing display. "O-fifty-three, GMT. That's consistent with the night sky."
"Sure, but look at the date."
"September 22nd, 1979."
September 22, 1979 The Vela Incident
Exiting the mind meld, Psion looked around at his teammates. "I wasn't expecting that. Something came through the bubble twenty-six years ago? That anomaly didn't even exist then."
"Maybe it happened differently in that universe," said Shockwave.
"I don't think so. There's something about September 22nd, 1979. I know that date. Something I read about while I was in high school." Psion was about to type the date into the computer when he remembered. "Aha! The Vela Incident!" He faced the others, smiling. "Twenty-six years ago, there was a big explosion that went off over where the South Atlantic and Indian oceans meet. It was picked up by a U.S. satellite intended to track nuclear explosions, the Vela 6911 satellite, and became the source of a lot of speculation. This was a two to three kiloton explosion, a bit small as nukes go, but no one knew who was responsible. Fingers were pointed at France, Israel, India, even South Africa. Some postulated it was just an electronics malfunction, possibly caused by a micrometeorite striking the satellite, but Arecibo in Puerto Rico saw something too."
Shockwave nodded. "So whatever happened in the reality Victorine visited, happened here too."
"It looks that way. And since we know the ship's direction and angle of descent, we have a reasonable chance of finding it using the PsiPlane's sensors."
Within minutes, the PsiPlane’s dark, sleek form was descending on a parabolic arc at hypersonic speed toward 47°S 40°E – the approximate site of the flash detected by Vela 6911. Slowing abruptly in the last seconds before impact, it broke the water’s surface with only a slight splash, and lit an array of floodlights as it accelerated again toward the ocean floor.
Shockwave, Victorine, and Zap studied the swirling shadows through the windscreen in vain for the shape of the craft Victorine had encountered. Psion merely stared, motionless and glassy-eyed. Focused on his esper data feeds, he perceived everything from water temperature gradients to the depth and density of the muddy ocean bottom in multi-sensory and dimensional detail. Simultaneously he monitored Victorine’s mind for any spark of recognition of a terrain feature or other ghostly shape that swept past her gaze.
After over an hour of monotonous search patterns, most of the team had settled into acceleration couches and begun munching nutritional bars from the PsiPlane’s supplies, when suddenly an unnatural shape arose on the AAI display. As they closed in, a low dark mound became visible in the floodlights. The hull’s gashes no longer streamed bubbles, and the hisses and groans of its death throes had fallen silent long ago, but the wreck was clearly that Victorine had encountered.
Zap and Shockwave remained on the PsiPlane, but in telepathic contact with Psion and Victorine, who entered the wreck via the same breach Victorine had used a few hours and over a quarter century earlier. Psion scanned and recorded all that he and Victorine encountered as they explored the decidedly alien architecture of the sunken hulk.
The ship’s pentagonal corridors and open chambers, crisscrossed with bars and struts, suggested it had been crewed by a species that welcomed a low or null gravity environment, and little concerned itself with anything humans could understand as comfort or ornamentation. A large crew space to the craft’s rear was apparently associated with engineering and propulsion, but a section behind that, behind the bulkhead from which Victorine had retreated during her earlier visit in fear of an imminent explosion, was largely empty. Psion theorized that it had contained some sort of engine core that had been ejected before exploding before the crash – possibly the source of the flash detected by Vela 6911. Crew stations in engineering, as well as in the apparent bridge farther to the front of the ship, included controls configured for appendages with two opposing pairs of “fingers”. These, together with the very broad and complex arrays of apparent optical displays in both sections, seemed ergonomically compatible with the insectoid creatures System Force had encountered in Jalala and in the service of Dr. Medusa.
Between the two major crew sections, Psion and Victorine found clusters of smaller, hexagonal chambers. Some of these chambers seemed as if they may have served as crew accommodations, though no sign of personal effects could be found. Other, larger chambers seemed more like cargo space, or perhaps wells for freight containers of some sort, but were again currently empty.
More exhaustive investigation was obviously in order, thought Psion, not only in furtherance of the group’s current investigations, but to recover and explore the technologies contained in the wreck. This would most readily be accomplished by raising the ship, and the most expedient way of accomplishing that would be to recall Galax from his crystal skull vigil.
Quickly Psion and Victorine returned to the PsiPlane, and the craft soon burst from the ocean’s surface on a course for home.
“Firehawk, this is the PsiPlane. We are on return course. Beginning feed of mission data to Science Section. Please ready the primary lab, and notify deck crew that…”
“PsiPlane, please stand by.” The team recognized Anastasia’s voice, as close to agitated as it generally got. “Be advised that we are on alert following notice of apparent terrorist bombings in London, UK. Relaying you relevant media feeds now.”
The team on the PsiPlane exchanged grim glances. “We’re altering course,” announced Psion. “Notify London authorities that we’ll be there momentarily.”
Victorine and Zap disembarked from the PsiPlane high above London, heading for the King’s Cross St. Pancras station where the largest concentration of emergency response to the Underground bombings seemed to be located. The PsiPlane continued to the nearby Tavistock Square, descending in a circle over the lush green treetops as Psion and Shockwave observed the smoking wreckage of the bombed, formerly-double decker bus. Not wanting to create another crowd control concern for the constabulary, Psion dipped only briefly to discharge Shockwave near ground level, and set the craft for station-keeping at 100 meters before departing himself.
Almost an hour had elapsed since the bus explosion, and two since the Underground detonations. The time for “first response” was largely past, though the injured and dead continued to be carried from smoking Underground tunnels. Shockwave surveyed the streets for any commotion in which she might productively intervene with her super speed, while Psion deployed his PsiCorder, scanning first for traces of hafnium, and then for whatever other useful forensic data might be had.
“Uh, Psion?” Zap’s voice resonated simultaneously over Psion’s SSC watch, the PsiCorder’s audio link, and Psion’s psychic switchboard. “Could you come over here for a minute? I guess I need a character reference…”
Psion skimmed swiftly over the heads of what few pedestrians could be found in the intervening streets, and introduced himself to the police lieutenant accompanying Zap. Noting that he could access relevant security cameras more rapidly than conventional methods, which could save time possibly vital to the investigation, Zap had asked if the lieutenant could secure permission for such an effort. The lieutenant had balked at the suggestion, apparently uncertain of this electrified vigilante’s legal status and clearance. Psion’s appearance and assurances eased matters considerably. The officer immediately radioed his superiors and received authorization, and Zap was soon coursing through the security camera network
Zap’s annoyance at the indignity had been palpable over the switchboard, if not in his voice, and Psion noted it, but this was not the time for psychological profiling. Deciding to return to Tavistock Square on foot, Psion scanned for explosive and/or hafnium traces as well as suspicious thoughts as he walked. He detected nothing of interest, which compounded his surprise at hearing his name called…
“Psion! So glad to see you could make it here.”
The speaker comfortably slouched at a sidewalk table in front of the London Pub, a glass of sparkling water in hand. Psion regarded him warily, lowering the PsiCorder but keeping the display in his peripheral vision. “You were expecting me?” he offered, making sure to broadcast everything he sensed to the rest of System Force within switchboard range.
“Hoping, at least… that you’d eventually leave your sanctuary and do some investigating in the field.”
“And you caused this to make that happen? Mister…”
“I prefer to be known as The Auteur. And no, I didn’t cause all this. I am merely… an interested observer.”
Psion’s scans had shown all the tables to be empty as he’d passed, but the stranger was showing up now as a seemingly normal human -- A teleporter, perhaps, but not one Psion had encountered before. His accent was “BBC English”, and his jacket and slacks pristine white. Around his neck, a houndstooth ascot scarf obscured his shirt, but over it hung a large gold object on a chain – looking, on closer examination, like a lens unit detached from a professional-grade camera
Auteur? Oh, great… thought Shockwave
You know this guy? replied Psion
Not exactly, but I think I know his type. If he goes around calling himself an “auteur”, his biggest superpower is probably his ego.
How about that thing around his neck?
Looks like a viewfinder. Directors use ‘em to plan scenes and camera angles, but they’re not usually so blinged out. You want a closer look?
Think you can move in and grab it while we’re chatting?
That’s the idea…
“You see, events in the world are unfolding in rather… dramatic fashion, both in the streets...” The Auteur rocked his head suggestively in the direction of the shattered bus. “...and in the corridors of power. While the world appreciates that you’re a methodical investigator, surely you understand, given the stakes involved, that decisive action is called for.”
“Just what did you have in mind?” replied Psion, eyebrow raised.
“Merely that you and your colleagues are possessed of superhuman powers. Should you hesitate to make full use of them, the consequences could be most tragic… And disappointing.”
While Shockwave could run at the speed of sound, her route through the streets to the London Pub was not a straight one. She proceeded carefully, lest some sound or vibration precede her and give The Auteur a moment’s warning.
“You are more than a mere enforcer of the law,” explained The Auteur. “You are a symbol of hope and justice to millions… Billions, I dare say. Consider the lasting harm if you allow yourself to be crippled by indecision or undue caution.”
At last Shockwave rounded the corner off Coram St. and had a clear approach up Woburn Place. Picking out the back of The Auteur’s white suit from a little over a football field (American-style) away, she smirked, coiled her muscles, and sprang at her quarry.
“We’re still not certain what we’re facing.”
A scowl overcame The Auteur’s condescending smile for a moment. “Objective certainty is toxic to creativity and progress. It is an indulgence that true heroes disdain.” Then the smile returned. “The world expects more of you, and you must rise to the challenge…”
Shockwave’s arm struck only a helpless goblet of San Pellegrino, which shattered into a glittering spray as she swept past at just below the speed of sound. “Well, that’s gonna make him hard to fight,” she sighed, strolling back to Psion’s side.
“You think he’s psychic?” asked Psion, “I suppose it’s possible, though I had no indication of such powers.” He telepathically swept the area, but found no sign that The Auteur had teleported anywhere within a half-mile.
“I hope he is. ‘cause otherwise it means he can do pretty much whatever he wants to us.”
“Do what?” asked Zap, arriving on the scene.
“I’m not sure,” replied Psion. “He seemed to want something of me… Of all of us… But he was inspecific.”
“I caught all that over the switchboard. I’m guessing we’re obstacles to his evil plan, and he’s trying to convert you to the ‘Dark Side’ or something.”
“Maybe,” responded Shockwave before Psion could respond, “But I think its more like ‘we’re not living up to his artistic vision’, or something.”
Psion and Zap glanced quizzically at each other.
Shockwave’s “Don’t You Get It?” gleam flared in her eyes as she ran through a brief explication of Auteur Theory, concluding “We don’t know who or what he is… or what powers he has, actually, but I think he thinks he’s directing us, and that he has some kind of vision of what he wants us to do… or maybe just how he wants it to look and feel.”
“So when he said ‘Cut!’ maybe he didn’t just teleport somewhere… Maybe he took himself out of everything?” offered Zap? “Or maybe we should make sure he was actually here in the first place…”
Two Superheroes In Search of an Auteur
Re-accessing London’s security camera network, Zap found, to his frustration, that while cameras clearly showed Psion conversing with someone, there was no clear view of whom. Bystanders had seen no one, but hadn’t really been looking amid the understandable distractions. Even Big Brother’s all-seeing eye apparently had its blind spots, and The Auteur’s seat was one of them. In desperation, Zap cast his net wider, looking at earlier archive footage in hopes of catching The Auteur’s arrival. Yet nothing came to light in the preceding hours… or days…
Finally, after hours in the computer files, pouring in desperation over several-week-old footage from Tavistock Square, Zap spotted his man. Quite conspicuous with the advantage of hindsight, the tall man in the white suit strolled around the Square with apparent purpose but no discernible pattern. He scanned this way and that through his gold lens, but generally ended up gazing back in the direction where the bus had exploded. Tapes from the King’s Cross St. Pancras station from about the same time showed him as well, staring intently through his camera-less lens.
Leaving Victorine to minister to the injured, Psion, Shockwave, and Zap returned to the Firehawk to regroup. Psion focused on his data from the "Vela" shipwreck and the analysis accumulated on the "bug" Shockwave and Zap had encountered in Jalala (as well as its twin that had earlier worked for Dr. Medusa).
Zap returned to the World Trade Center video archives that had previously so frustrated him. Looking now not for the actual bombing suspect Victorine had seen, but instead for The Auteur, Zap quickly found him wandering Tobin Plaza some months before the blast, scanning everything intently with his lens, with particular focus on the bench where the bomb had been left.
Shockwave meanwhile made her way to Los Angeles, dropping in on director David Lynch as he watered a backyard flower bed. Each seemed pleased to number the other among their fans. Shockwave related System Force’s encounter with The Auteur to the auteur, who agreed to make inquiries in the arts community in hope of finding anyone who might have encountered the mysterious figure previously.