December 3, 2011

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4Sworn, Session Fourteen

Previous Session: October 15, 2011 Next Session: March 24, 2012

Perdition, Psion, Shockwave, and Zap

Experience Points 5300 for Carybdis 850 for Whipsaw 1000 for tactical victory over Desecrator 5300 for She-Ariel 1000 for Soul Catcher 2,690 points each to Perdition, Psion, Shockwave, Starfire, and Zap.

Contents

Shockwave's Thought for Speeding Up Assembly of the Amber Room

Shockwave suggested that Psion could combine Mindy's mind with Shockwave's speed. Then they could finish the Amber Room that much faster.

The Team Discussed the Use of Super Powers to Influence International Affairs

The team discussed visiting Trent in the NSA headquarters at Fort Meade. Psion expressed misgivings about such a plan. “What would we get out of such an action? He doesn't want us involved and now we're going to force ourselves upon him?”

“He went out of his way to tell us to stay away from Iraq.”

“Not really … he just tried to distract us. No one actually told us to stay away from there.”

Shockwave thought about this and nodded, “True. Alright then, screw Trent. Let's just go get Saddam and drop him off in Trent's office.”

“Then we're back in the position of interfering with the internal affairs of a government and demonstrating that we are capable of deposing the leadership of any country as easily as one would snap one's fingers.”

“So then System 4ce doesn't do this. I'll use my other team.”

Perdition looked back and forth uncomfortably as the dialog between Psion and Shockwave continued.

“That is good for System 4ce. Now we won't be held responsible, but we've demonstrated what people like us can actually do.”

“We kick super-villain butts all the time! Who can't extrapolate that we can go kidnap a politician?”

Psion nodded. “Isn't it interesting, though, that we don't see this sort of activity happening?”

Zap tilted his head with a puzzled grunt. “Well, we see super-hero and super-villain activity all the time. But none of us ever really seem to interfere with the operations of any government.”

“Because it's boring,” said Shockwave.

Perdition joined in, “But if we did that, then governments would notice and wonder what's to stop us from coming after them.” He paused a moment and considered. “From a conspiratorial perspective, maybe they already have some kind of protection that keeps supers from doing just that. Something we don't know about.”

“Now that piques my curiosity. What is the system and will we trip it if we go after Saddam? I want to know because, number one, it might be used against us at an inopportune time, and number two, I might be able to use this against the Space Vampires.”

Shockwave shook her head. This time it was her turn to make a puzzled grunt. “How does playing politics work against the Space Vampires?”

“Well, whatever they use against us, might be an effective tool against the Space Vampires or any other extraterrestrial threat.” Perdition chuckled and turned to Shockwave, “Well, as you said, going after leaders is kind of … boring.”

“It is kind of boring.”

“Either that or we've somehow been programmed to avoid it.”

Psion smiled. “And I'm more susceptible to that programming? You and I? Shockwave certainly seems immune.”

Perdition continued, “Another possibility is that it has happened. And it's been passed off as something else … a conventional coup involving a leader's intelligence organization. If you have this kind of power – and we know that mundanes are afraid of us – unless you're insane, you don't flaunt it because if enough mundanes come together yes they can take us down.”

Shockwave looked skeptical, but shuddered and deflected the idea with humor, “Or! We kidnap Saddam and we kidnap Bush and we take them to a room on the moon and we sell the television rights. Because if it's reality TV, it's okay! Just let them work it out. And the money would be … !”

Psion snapped his fingers and pointed at her, “I think I remember … this was an episode of Star Trek. Shall we fill the room with the raw ingredients for gun powder, too?”

“But seriously,” Perdition said. “We've had this discussion before. Why don't we do it? How do we know it hasn't been done? And how do we know there isn't something preventing us from doing it?”

Shockwave said, “We could find out.”

Psion nodded, “It'd be very easy to find out. We could try and if we fail or something intervenes, then it has revealed its hand, at least.”

“I seriously doubt Saddam Hussein has super-villains on his payroll.” “Yeah, but maybe there's something else. Perhaps another level of hierarchy that we're not even aware of that prohibits our interference.”

Shockwave looked doubtful. “So we'd be smited by some super-hero's god?”

“Why not? Historically, there have been no attempts by super-powered individuals against the head of any major government that have come close to succeeding. The closest was back in the 1980s when Violator attempted to overthrow the government of the Maldives.”

“Super-villains know it's not in their best interest to do it.” Perdition asserted. “They'd rather operate behind the scenes. Also, how do we know it hasn't been done, but passed off as something else?”

Zap nodded vigorously. “Right! You know what would be good right now? A super-villain detector! Why don't you get on that, Psion?”

Psion spared Zap the most minimal of glances then said to Perdition, “Normals engage in this kind of activity all the time. Why don't supers?”

“How do you know we haven't done it? Maybe there's a shape-shifter involved. Or even without a shape-shifter, maybe sometimes a super approaches a mundane and promises to help them overthrow a dictator they don't like. No super … Shee-Ariel, for example … has ever stormed into Washington DC and tried to destroy Congress for kicks because it's not a logical thing to do.”

Zap disagreed, “But they're villains. She's a druggie! Sooner or later, one of them has to be crazy enough to try.”

“But to what benefit?”

“Some of these villains are just purely chaotic. The benefit is just taking out the President for fun.” Perdition persisted, “But they've probably thought about it and said, 'If I do that, all sorts of heat are going to come down on me.'”

Shockwave disagreed. “If I'm chaos-evil, I'm like Robin Williams from Mork and Mindy … just--"

“Random,” said Zap.

“Yeah.”

But Perdition argued, “There are only so many super-villains, numbering in the dozens at most. Are any of them that powerful?” “The Flaming Skull,” Zap answered without hesitation. “He could take control of the President's brain and control the country through him and there's nothing you could do to stop it.”

“But then again someone like that could do it without being obvious about it,” Perdition pointed out.

“Right! And that's why I'm thinking it's happened somewhere!”

“Well, that's what I said. It doesn't have to be an obvious thing. How do we know it hasn't happened already?”

Shockwave had no time for these kinds of hypothetical discussions. “Look, are we gonna do anything about the war?”

Zap grinned. “We're weeks away from starting the invasion of Iraq. We were supposed to give Trent's boys any information that contradicted Colin Powell's speech to the United Nations.”

Psion pointed out, “We also suggested a range of other options which would actively involve us.”

The team argued back and forth, debating possibilities that included direct intervention in the government of Iraq, provoking the mysterious Mr. Trent at the NSA, and fact-finding for the NSA about weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. At best, they could agree only to investigate suspected WMD sites.

System 4ce Isolated the Brain of Karybdis From Her Body

Eventually, the discussion turned to the disposition of Karybdis. Psion wanted to pursue Shockwave's suggestion of regenerating Karybdis' original, organic body from the tissues of her human brain. Zap worried that Karybdis could, once she had a normal body, fabricate a new robotic body for herself. But the group decided that though it was possible she could construct a new robotic form, it was extremely unlikely she could ever replicate the unique mimetic poly-alloy coating that rendered her so formidible.

They agreed to separate her brain support module from her body to eliminate any chance that she'd be able to override the restraints they'd put on her.

The team then split up with Shockwave, Starfire, and Zap going to Iraq in search of WMDs while Perdition and Psion worked on the Amber Room models.

The Problem with the Amber Room Helmet

After the rest of System 4ce had departed, Psion and Perdition stood looking at the model of the Amber Room which Zap and Shockwave had dubbed, “The Amber Room Helmet”. Psion intended to try testing the model a second time, but as he consulted a few diagrams for a final check, Perdition began scooting under the support platform towards the hole in the model's floor.

“Perdition, what are you doing?”

The mystic tilted his head and answered, “Hey, I've been to Agartha.”

Psion crossed his arms. “Hey. I've been to other galaxies. I've been to other universes. I've been to all universes. At the same time.” But Perdition shrugged with a grin and stuck his head into the miniature.

Sitting with his head in the equivalent of a four-by-four-foot box, he contemplated the symbols displayed on the walls and ceiling. There seemed to be a logical relationship that progressed through the symbols … a nagging suspicion that distracted him.

From outside, Psion watched as Perdition sat cross-legged. Occasionally, he scanned the miniature and the mystic with his psicorder for unusual readings, but saw nothing odd. After a while, Perdition's breathing grew progressively more rhythmic and deep. Then he began to snore.

The telepath snorted a quite chuckle and decided the mystic just needed to rest, so he switched out the lights and retired to his own office to work on his CGI model of the Amber Room.

As he worked, he realized there were limitations to the resolution of the modeler, and those limitations could even translate to the physical miniature back in the hangar. The important factor was the relationship of the size of the symbols to the size of the eye, and while this could be corrected mathematically, it might be easier to simply build the full-sized version. Leibniz's calculations were proving difficult to cheat.

He shut down the modeling program and returned to hangar where Perdition's rhythmic snores continued to issue from within the miniature. He banged on the side of the model. “Perdition! Wake up! This isn't going to work.”

The symbols, according to Perdition, were reminiscent of the patterns of a mandala. “The purpose of this is to focus the mind. Tibetan monks will draw a mandala in the sand, and when they are done meditating, destroy the pattern because the creation of the mandala, and the paths one follows while creating it, are what's important for mental and spiritual focus.

Shockwave, Starfire, and Zap Searched for WMDs in Iraq

The operation in Iraq took several days, and mostly involved flying and running through the desert under cover of darkness. The group moved systematically moved through each site listed in Powell's briefing, but had little luck finding anything more than chemical traces at some of the sites, but nothing recent.

Finally, at an office site, they found loads of documents filed away, some of which looked like they'd been gone through relatively recently. They collected papers and discs for later review.

On the Construction of the Full-sized Amber Room

Mindy had been preparing an automated process for replicating the full-sized panels for a large-scale Amber Room. Psion consulted with her and, using the original calculations from Leibniz, refined the process to improve its characteristics beyond that of the original.

Psion Offered Karybdis a Choice

“Karybdis,” Psion projected his thoughts towards the cyborg's disembodied brain. “I apologize for the extreme means by which we've restrained you. But it was Shockwave's suggestion that we offer you a choice for how we handle you. We don't want to kill you. We can attach you to a more normal robot body so that you're capable of moving around. We can leave you in your current condition. But there's also the possibility of regenerating your original body before you were mutilated.”

The telepath observed no response. The villain appeared to be totally withdrawn in a depressive funk. All life-support monitors indicated that her brain was healthy and conscious, but she offered no response to the choices Psion provided. To know more, he'd have to open the brain case itself and make direct contact, but she'd been violated enough to be brought to this state.

Psion and Mindy Built the Full-sized Amber Room

Returning to the hangar the next day, Psion found Perdition still under the miniature, but stretching and looking around as though waking from a deep sleep. “You've been in there this whole time?”

“It was a good sleep.”

“It's been sixteen hours!”

Perdition nodded. “Well, you didn't have to leave me there.”

“I didn't know you went back in. I woke you once.”

“I wasn't asleep. I was concentrating.”

“You were snoring!”

Maintenance crew started filtering into the room to begin assembling the full-sized panels. Psion arranged to have one symbol designed to rotate so that the symbol “flow” could be disrupted, sabotaging the effect unless the symbol was corrected.

Shockwave Reviewed the Data From Iraq

The gas traces were likely left behind from chemical stocks that had been destroyed after the Gulf War, but there was little found in the documents that corroborated the story presented by the State Department. Most of the documents were administrative with personnel records although some listed physical file contents relating to nuclear and biological materials. Shockwave wanted to know more about the nuclear and biological materials. Later summaries indicated that the Iraqis didn't have an active WMD program in place, but the groundwork had been laid so that they could start such programs up again at a moment's notice.

Psion Devised a Means of Bleeding Energy Slowly From a Hafnium-Isomer Bomb Core

While waiting for workers to finish assembling the panels from the Amber Room, Psion retired to the ship's energy lab and found a way to safely bleed-off energy from the hafnium-isomer bomb core; essentially creating a low-tech sarium-krellide battery.

Zap's Dangerous Encounter with NSA Security

Zap secretly decided he wanted to look for any files that indicated willful lying by U.S. Officials. Reasoning that Mr. Trent would be involved in any such program, his first stop would be the NSA headquarters.

He skimmed through electrical connections into the Fort Meade facility, and soon found himself in a massive data storage area. He found encrypted files he thought might have useful information and grabbed copies of files to decrypt back on the Firehawk. But upon trying to exit, realized he wasn't sure how to exit the complex system. Hopelessly lost, he began to suspect he was in some kind of buffer system.

Mildly concerned, he decided to break out from any physical outlet he could find. He found a ground line and sent a copy of himself down through the ground line in hopes that he could exit that way, but the ground, too had a buffer on it and provided no easy exit. He then poked partially out of the outlet and looked around. He found himself in a dark and quiet generator room. He entered the room completely. He poked his head through a metal fire door and saw a corridor. Wary of that, he entered the electrical system powering the lights, but there was no clear exit there, either. Perhaps the circuit was broken by a switch.

He returned to the generator room and located the fire suppression piping and entered that. Following the pipes, he eventually exited the building and came out in the grounds of the Fort Meade campus.

Zap Enlisted Shockwave to Help Penetrate the NSA

Zap contacted Shockwave and quickly explained what he had done and asked for her help. He was having trouble navigating the complicated electrical pathways through the building and felt that if Shockwave could phase non-corporeal and transport him in a container through the building, it would be easier to get where he wanted to go. They discussed this and decided their best destination would be Trent's office itself.

With Zap safely stored in a metal container, Shockwave phased through the ground and up into the building. She soon located Trent's office, but upon approaching it, struck an electrified barrier through which she could not pass. Trent's entire office was surrounded by this field.

She found a breach in the barrier in the form of a ventilation duct. But a series of very fine gold threads, like blonde hairs extended across the volume of the duct. This plan clearly wasn't going to work, so she reluctantly withdrew.

The Team Tried Using the Completed Amber Room

Gold-trim along the panels dazzled in the candlelit interior. Psion communicated with the rest of the team through a radio. He began to note the flow dictated by the characters. Soon he found the symbols seemed to melt away and he became conscious of the ship and people around him. The structure of the ship and the PsiPlane sitting upon it. Fully immersed in the experience, he noted the ship and the ocean and all the water within and the currents of the ocean and the currents of the air and the interrelationship and inter-dynamics of all of that. And the electro-magnetic and gravitational forces of every constituent particle of the planet and all the planets of the solar system and other stars and planets of the galaxy.

Suddenly he snapped out of the effect and became aware of how his will had begun to dissolve under it. Vaguely remembering the radio link to the others outside the room, he asked in a quavering voice, “Extract me now!”

“Was it useful?” Shockwave asked as Psion recovered.

“It was … useless.”

“But was it fun?”

“I was aware of everything. And it kept getting more expansive and immersive and I was becoming nothing in comparison to it.”

“I think that was just scope, dude.”

“It was very much scope! But I was losing myself in it and my intellect counted against me in this regard.”

“Huh! I'm going in.”

Psion laughed. “Curiously, I want to know what would happen.”

“Give me thirty seconds.”

Shockwave and then Zap tried the room, but had no results.

Then it was Perdition's turn, but he again had no luck.

---

Psion paced the conference room as the others sat around the table, its self-illuminated surface strewn with snack bags and half-empty water bottles.

“That thing is the antithesis of me. When you are at one with the universe, you are no longer self-aware. And that isn't even the full extent of my concern about how that room can be misused.” He looked at the skeptical expressions on his colleagues' faces and explained. “I am one of the most – if not the most – powerful telepaths on the face of the planet. If I go in there and something persuades me to open up a telepathic switchboard with the rest of the planet, every living person will experience what happened to me. I was aware of molecules around the world.”

“What do you think the point of the Amber room is,” Shockwave asked.

Reluctantly, the telepath answered, “I don't know. If I were able to gain control of that, I might have been able to exert my will upon it.” He paused in thought, weighing benefits and risks against his own irrepressible curiosity. “I have an experiment. Shockwave, I want you to pull me out ten seconds after I trail off, just as before. But, when I trail off, I want you to start shouting at me to change the clock. Do so repeatedly until you finally pull me out.”

Shockwave agreed, and Psion returned to the Amber room twice more, but both tries failed to reproduce the state he'd experienced before. Psion changed the instructions, asking for more time, but that proved pointless as well.

Shockwave was sure Psion hadn't been staying in long enough. “What if we monitored your heart rate? Do you think it would change when you started to have an experience in there?”

“Under ordinary circumstances, my heart doesn't beat.”

Zap couldn't resist. “I always knew you were a heartless bastard.”

Psion shook his head, “I'm not heartless … the organ is simply unnecessary under the influence of my will.”

Perdition stepped in before the exchange could escalate, “I want to try the room once more.”

Shockwave nodded, “Psion, can you guide him?”

Psion looked thoughtful, “I have engaged in therapeutic telepathy before, so it's possible.”

Perdition went in again, this time with Psion linked to him via the switchboard. Soothing and restful to Perdition, Psion sensed that both of their experiences were somewhat distanced and metaphorical compared to Psion's earlier trance. Operating at a philisophical level of understanding, the effect stopped short of the immersive relationship of one to the patterns of reality.

As he explained this, Shockwave wondered aloud, “Can this be used for some kind of espionage? Find the Auteur?”

Psion smiled and mentally faced Perdition, implanting an impression on the telepathic connection he shared with the magic user, but he now realized another important difference in Perdition's experience; the man's mind wasn't truly reaching for totality, but mentally doubling back and looping on a pattern of thoughts. The effect wasn't obvious to Perdition, but as an outside observer, it was clear to Psion that he wasn't achieving anything.

Psion joined Perdition in the room. A telepathic link was too distant for Psion to direct Perdition, but when he made physical contact, Perdition blinked and looked around – the effect disrupted.

“Try another goal,” suggested Shockwave. “Try looking for your favorite high school teacher.”

Psion gestured into the volume. “You try.”

“I can't get it to work.”

“But it might work this time. Come on.”

Shockwave entered and the two men left. But the result was the same as before.

Perdition shrugged. “Do you want to go again, Psion? What's your goal?”

“As before, I want to see if I can set the clock back one hour.”

Shockwave shook her head. “I don't think that's a good goal for this room. That's not how it works.”

“It might not be, but it is how I work.” He smiled and stepped back into the frustrating chamber. He cleared his thoughts and focused briefly on his goal before looking at the glistening glyphs. His mind began to follow the flow of the symbols …

Psion Uses the Amber Room Again and Succeeds... In Falling Into a Trap?

The telepath soon became aware of the ship around and noticed there was no one on it, but somehow that didn't seem surprising given the cycles of the water and the air and the ship moving on the water and the electrons within the hull of the ship and their orbits around their respective nuclei …

He remembered his objective. Becoming aware of the clock on the wall, he had an awareness of moving outward from the clock, ship, and himself and a series of receding images of all of that. Photons traced patterns through space and recorded interactions and those interactions had further interactions forward and backwards in time. It became possible to trace each cause and effect back through time and forward into the future to see how the present was itself a logical consequence of multitudinous interactions. Caught up in the continuum of of history from creation to extinction, Psion realized he could step to one or the other or any point in between, but instead decided simply to go back one hour. And the clock on the ship's hangar did accordingly. Every particle in the cosmos retraced its path back along that hour until the present reset itself accordingly.

Psion looked around. The Amber Room was gone. He sensed the absence of the crew, and somehow knew they could be here, but there was simply no need for them in this moment. Even the omnipresent accumulated conscious thoughts he called Firehawk were missing. The weather up on deck was unseasonably clear and calm for the South Atlantic. Almost Caribbean. The Psiplane remained perched on the landing pad, but beside it sat a cafe table and chairs with a man sitting in one.

“Psion,” called the Auteur. “Please, have a seat.”

Smiling to himself, the telepath accepted and made himself comfortable. “I assume you have some understanding of what has transpired.”

“Some understanding, yes.”

“I'm afraid I'm still somewhat confused by the experience.”

“And rightly so, it is a … big experience.” The Auteur smiled condescendingly -- seemingly the only smile he knew.

“Quite. At one point I was capable of perceiving all of the cosmos.”

“Nothing stops you from perceiving all of it except yourself.”

“I had the distinct impression I was losing myself to it.”

“Yes. And you're fettered by that and your sense of self.”

“I don't consider that a limitation.”

“Whether you do or not, it is.”

“Where are we?”

“We're in a single moment." The Auteur paused briefly to gaze out at the horizon, his smile unchanging. "I followed you here, anticipating that you'd arrive here.”

“A single moment, and yet I look out and see an ocean. An ocean that behaves as an ocean should.”

“It's much calmer than it would otherwise be.”

“And yet it's in motion.”

“Scientists where we come from refer to that as a quantum effect. Certain dynamic systems have an inherent inspecificity to them.”

“And that is what we are witnessing right now?”

“Quite so. And yet the sunlight isn't hampered by interactions with matter.”

“That's why it feels warmer?”

The Auteur nodded affirmation. “I'm aware of your limitations. And have been from the start. Ever since you set out on your journey to obtain the Amber Room.”

“I believe we started off on this journey as a result of your actions.”

“Quite true. We all have strengths and weaknesses. You and your colleagues as super-heroes have certain advantages where it comes to direct action and conflict. You were better suited to amass the components of the room as you did.”

“And now that we've amassed the components of the room …?”

“You are, alas, ill-fitted to use them.” The Auteur sipped at a beverage. “Your very attachment to your concept of self; your values and the things you value hinders you.”

“And what is, in your mind, the correct path to follow?”

The Auteur's eyes narrowed slightly, and did his smile quaver for just a moment? “That's of little consequence to you.”

“I am curious.”

“Of course you are. Again, part of your nature. I have been following the currents of human history and human endeavor for many years now. I'm quite prepared to make the necessary sacrifices and appropriate commitments to properly utilize the power you have amassed.”

“And achieve what goal, sir?”

“To carry things to their logical conclusion.”

“I look out across the cosmos, and I don't see a logical conclusion.”

The Auteur sighed, “Yes, you're so limited in your esthetic appreciation. It's no fault of your own – nothing to be ashamed of, your strengths lie elsewhere.”

“I've stood outside of all the cosmos and looked down upon it. I have perceptions and understanding of the way things go together that are unparalleled by any other sentient being in this universe.”

“And yet you have beliefs and values distinct from true esthetic appreciation of it all.”

“That is what distinguishes the sapient and non-sapient.”

“That is your perception of the difference," The Auteur corrected. "In any event, I recognize that you and your colleagues have done a great deal … made sacrifices … expended enormous energies to achieve what you've achieved. And so I'm not asking you to surrender it without compensation.”

“What compensation do you offer?”

“You will recall, when first we met, I discussed the powers we possess as intelligent agents in this cosmos. I mentioned how all of history and pre-history since creation has converged in you. That, in order to accomplish anything you must not hesitate to utilize all the knowledge and power which fate has made you the focus of. Whether it calls upon you to destroy or create.”

Psion gestured at the pandocle lens dangling from his adversary's hand. “Like a lens focusing light to a point?”

The Auteur laid the lens back to his chest and raised his hand. A monarch butterfly fluttered up and landed on his fingertips. “Whether to destroy,” and here he curled his fingers into a fist, trapping the beautiful insect in his grip and crushing it. “Or to create.” The Auteur opened his hand and dropped the crumpled creature to the deck.

Psion stared at it a moment, focusing his will to resurrect the butterfly, but without result.

“I know that you have lost. I know that you have experienced heart-rending, magnificent loss," The Auteur's eyes sparkled at the words, and a faint gasp seemed to punctuate his words. "And it is within my power to mitigate that loss.”

“By what means?”

“By the means of what you see here, and the means that you possess and yet cannot utilize.”

“The return of the Adventurers?”

“Nothing so grand, I'm afraid. I was thinking more in terms of a choice. The resurrection of the one you knew as Sybil, or the resurrection of the one you knew as Firehawk.”

Psion finally looked up and noticed the Auteur was now holding a butterfly in each hand. “This is surreal. I am impressed by your demonstation, Mr. Frame, but I'm not convinced this isn't a virtual environment of some kind. Perhaps nothing more than a special effect."

“There's no real difference in the end, it's all a matter of perception,” he replied in a pedantic tone.

“These people, who are both dear to me, met their end as a consequence of actions they and others took.”

“And your own,” added the Auteur.

Psion looked at Arthur Frame and concentrated a little, barriers fell and he reached out mentally to seize the conscious thoughts of the man sitting before him. But he encountered something different. A simpler empathic impulse. A sense of expectation emanated from the man instead of thought. What could that mean? Frame's earlier words about the limitations of a sense of self suddenly had a new potential meaning. On the other hand, he had no idea how this experience involving the Amber Room might have affected his abilities; he couldn't quite dismiss the notion that this was some kind of virtual reality.

“I must emphasize that you may relax. You may feel secure. I chose to meet you here specifically because there can be no consequences here. A moment can be decisive, but only subsequently.”

“So what are you proposing, that we just hand over the Amber Room to you?”

“That would be the most sensible course. It does nothing for you and your companions that a few buttons of peyote wouldn't accomplish.”

“I suspect that you are selling my companions a bit short in that realm. Yes, it will take them a bit longer to figure it out. But I'm already beginning to see its potential. This whole business of stepping into a moment of time … you didn't do that, I did. I'm curious about how you managed to manifest yourself here, but I'll figure that out as well. Facts, information, and knowledge don't elude me for long … I'm a scientist, and I'm very curious. I'll figure it out.”

Psion rose. “Put the butterflies away. I regret the deaths of both Sybil and Firehawk. And I still have the potential to resurrect one of them once I have access to suitable technology.”

“Perhaps that may inform your decision.”

“And does. If I were to take you up on your offer, the choice would be simple; it would be Sybil, since I have no means of resurrecting her short of time travel. Do you know what? The simple fact of the matter is that I might already have that within my grasp, now. It didn't occur to me that fiddling with the ship's clock might, metaphorically, involve me in movement through time. So! What are we going to do? Where do we go from here?”

The Auteur sat absolutely motionless. Psion moved closer and tried to grab the pandocle lens, but the instrument seemed fixed in place. He drew his psicorder, and began scanning, but everything around the telepath read as an impenetrable mass. On a thought-scan, he faintly picked up a sense of thoughts emanating from the butterflies. One felt like Sybil, the other felt like Firehawk. The choice.

“I refuse your choice, Arthur. I control this situation, not you.”

Pakistan's Advanced Projects Office and Isomeric Explosives

Shockwave received the last batch of abstracts. As she looked them over, she saw a number of memos referencing contacts with Pakistan identifying them as a source of nuclear materials. Saddam's defense establishment proposed making contact with Pakistan's Advanced Projects Office. The memos included references to nuclear weapons and possibly more advanced arms. “So apparently,” she said, “Pakistan has isomeric bombs.”

Zap looked back at her. “If this can be tied to the Trade Center or the attempted LOOP bombing ...” “We need to find this Advanced Projects Office and see what they know about isomeric bombs.”

Psion Explored a Frozen Moment in Time

Launching himself from the Firehawk, Psion flew upwards until he could see continents. The nearest landmass looked like Africa. He flew towards it and eventually reached the coast of South Africa. When he set down on the beach, the sand was unyielding. There were no people around, but he found an abandoned newspaper lying on the beach. Curiously, he could lift the paper, but not turn its pages. When he released it, it fell back to the exact place and position it was in when he found it.

“This makes absolutely no sense!” He took to the air again and headed towards Europe. A frozen moment that extends forever would give the telepath plenty of time to think. And so, as he flew, he started thinking about projects. “I can use this opportunity! There are no space vampires, no Flaming Skulls. No Violator, Desecrator, Soul Catcher, no super-villains to interrupt my work!” He took out his psicorder and began making notes.

Days added up to weeks. Weeks to months. Months inevitably yielded to years. Psion wandered the globe, reading whatever he found, studying frozen moments, thinking. Planning. The only thing moving on the entire planet, and the only thoughts that weren't his own, were those two butterflies back on the Firehawk. He'd occasionally return to the ship, pouring over every detail of the Auteur, the butterflies, and the empty deck that housed the missing Amber Room.

He never found anything useful.

He tried manipulating time. He tried to exit the moment. He remembered that moment when he attempted to psychically link with Perdition during their now years-past experiments in the Amber Room and return to that moment. It had a psychic resonance … a connection Psion hoped to home in on. But every effort was in vain.

Eventually, his psicorder's memory was stuffed with notes and photos. He'd made as many refinements and improvements to the tool's operating system as he could think of until he could no longer see the point. And the long time in isolation, long ago thought of as an opportunity, began to wear on him.

Sometimes, just for the company, he'd return to that ship and walk its decks until he finally summoned the courage to sit down beside the Auteur again and share the empty companionship of the two butterflies. He'd listen to Firehawk's thoughts, played back over and over, moment by moment. Vicariously reliving time.

Until one day, it was impossible to leave again. There was nothing left to do. Nowhere else to go. An eternal moment without the distraction of any other people had reduced Psion to a little boy huddled in a big dark room with only two dim candles to shine any light. Those two butterflies. He only had to choose. Yet he refused to play the Auteur's game. To touch one was to choose. And it was impossible to precisely touch both at the same exact moment; he have to touch one at least a few microseconds before the other.

The sun stayed the same place it always hung on that unending South Atlantic afternoon. Low in the sky, but unnaturally warm above a sea that churned with quantum properties instead of hydraulic.

And one moment in that unending series of identical moments, he touched one of the butterflies.

Psion Exited the Amber Room

Shockwave yanked Psion from the Amber Room. For a moment, the telepath looked dazed and confused, but that soon passed and he began hopping up and down, clapping his hands and laughing. Then he stopped and grew serious. “Damn it, I had to do that!” He pulled out his psicorder and began reviewing its contents. The upgrades, the notes, the pictures, all of the content he'd collected and cataloged was gone. His mouth gaped around a groan of deep, wrenching horror as he stared at it, then he looked up at Perdition, Shockwave, and Zap and whispered, “It's all gone!” Then he grinned and shouted, “But I remember it! I have some work to do … I'll be back!”

Shockwave interrupted him. “Wait. What was it?”

Psion whirled and pushed his face close to hers with an outraged grimace. “It was nothing. That is an absolute trap! People should stay out of that thing. I'll tell you: don't touch the butterflies! You don't want to touch the butterflies, because then you're doing his bidding! I interacted with the Auteur in there ….”

“Did you kick his ass,” Shockwave asked.

“No! There was nothing I could do! We talked for a little bit and then he froze. Four years ago!”

His eyes fell upon the clock in the hangar, for an instant he simply appreciated the way it once again registered the passage of seconds, but then something else struck him: it was an hour earlier than when he'd last gone in. “Shockwave … Perdition … did either of you try using the Amber Room since I first went in?”

They glanced at each other and chorused, “No.”

Psion spun from the clock and stepped towards them. “Perdition, I know you went in. Remember? I tried to guide you with telepathy when you got lost in loops and that broke you out of your trance. Shockwave! You went in, too. Zap too!”

They all shook their heads. “Maybe if you didn't get anywhere,” Shockwave offered. “We'd try it. But you did alright the first time, so you went in again.”

“And that's it? That's all you remember?”

They stared at him as he muttered, “I did go back in time!” Then, louder, he announced, “And I can prove it! Just look up the current edition of the Cape Town Times and this is what is printed on the front page.” Psion launched into a detailed recollection of the newspaper's content. A quick check of the online edition verified Psion's memory.

“Psion,” Shockwave asked, “what happened with the Auteur?”

“He wanted me to choose between Sybil and Firehawk. I spent years not playing that game.”

“So what did you do?”

“I swatted one of the butterflies. Well, not swatted, exactly. But it wasn't a 'choice', I have no intention of letting him have this room.”

“So … who did you choose?”

Sybil.”

“And she's dead, right?”

“She's been dead for over ten years. Yes.”

Zap looked at Shockwave, then Perdition, then Psion. Then he consulted Sybil's biography.

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