February 20, 2010
4Sworn, Session Five
Briefing On the Firehawk
Armed with data he'd gathered from the outskirts of the Solar System, Psion returned to the Firehawk and called others presently aboard the ship to a meeting to discuss his findings. "Although I have collected additional facts about the manufacture of the hafnium cores using time travel experiments outside of Minkowski space, I've discovered a new potential threat with greater ramifications than those we face from the isomer terrorists we've been investigating. Specifically--"
"Wait," Shockwave interrupted. "Time travel? You went back in time and found out who did it?"
"Not specifically. I'm unable to interact with and therefore change history, but I am able to use faster-than-light velocities to subjectively reverse entropic progression and record and sometimes even view emissions as they occur in the past. This is limited by unidentified forces that prevent me from getting too close to such events. Still, I was able to detect predicted emissions that coincide with the manufacturing technique I deduce was used to grow the cores."
"So who did it?"
"As I said, I'm not certain about that, but I do know that there were peculiar subspace emissions consistent with a device forcing materials through a molecule-wide wormhole emanating from a region along the Afghanistan and Pakistan borders. But the more interesting development was--"
Zap interrupted this time. "We went to Nogales and I got turned into a frog."
"And I punched a robot chick in the brain," said Shockwave.
"And I had my throat ripped open," supplied Perdition. As Psion stared at him, he added, "I got better."
Psion shook his head and focused on Zap. "A frog? By Shee-Ariel I presume? Who kissed you?"
"No one." Zap pointed over to a frog sitting on a side table, the soft tissue of its throat pulsing as it listened to the discussion with decidedly un-froglike interest.
"Why not? How long has it been since she cursed you? You shouldn't delay the cure ... the transformation may remain permanent if you delay too long."
"How do you know that?"
"I don't," Psion admitted. "Not for certain, but don't treat magic spells with such a cavalier attitude. A time limit could make it permanent. Someone needs to kiss that frog." The frog puffed out its pouch and croaked as it shifted to look at Shockwave.
"Don't look at me, I won't kiss it. Don't we have someone else on board for that? I bet we've got statisticians on staff, there's got to be someone whose job is to kiss frogs."
Psion huffed a sigh and looked back at Zap. "You should kiss him."
"Nope. How about if I throw it against the wall and kill it? Then it will disappear and I'll be able to re-corporate it into my body and be whole again."
Psion stared at Zap for a moment, aghast at the suggestion. "If none of you will take serious efforts to correct the problem, I will." He rose and approached the frog. The amphibian protested with a croak of alarm and lept from the table, evading the telepath's grasp. Psion dropped to his knees in pursuit of the amphibian under the conference table, and chased it into Zap's hands.
"How about," the electrified figure suggested, "if I take it to someplace the Sun is rising and see if the first light of dawn fixes the problem?"
From under the table, Psion said, "I advise caution. We know of one, proven solution to this curse."
Zap Cures His Frog
"Okay, so let's find another. I'll be right back." Thus excusing himself, Zap fled the conference lounge and left the ship with his amphibious counterpart clasped to his chest as he flew east. Eight hundred miles from the coast of Portugal, in the golden glow of pre-dawn light, Zap spotted a clump of large islands; the Azores. He landed indiscriminately on one and set the Zap frog down on the ground. It shifted itself around to watch the sunrise, and as the first direct rays touched the beach, the frog croaked loudly and began to stretch and deform. Bolts of electricity arced off its back and sizzled across the beach around the writhing creature and it suddenly swelled and assumed a humanoid form.
In a moment, the once frog-like second Zap faced the first and said, "That was so much better than being kissed by Psion!" With a flash, the two figures rejoined into a single Zap and he rushed up into the bright blue sky and shot back towards the Firehawk.
Zap Returns to the Firehawk
The telepath's arms were folded over his chest. "I don't believe you. You left the frog on the beach, didn't you?"
"I swear! First light of dawn ... it works."
"You didn't drown it in the ocean, did you?"
"Psion. It works."
The telepath regarded Zap suspiciously. "Your report will go into the database as an alternate cure for this curse. You had best be telling the truth."
Shockwave chuckled from her seat, "Calm down, Psion. You're just annoyed that Zap stole your date."
The telepath heaved a sigh. "In any case, can we finish the debriefing?"
Psion elaborated on his earlier announcement with a lengthy series of slides and animations showing the results of numerous sensor scans detailing the creation of the isomer device. He would often pause, lingering on one display or another to identify subtle details and launch into short lectures about obscure theories. Perdition maintained polite interest through much of this and even contributed commentary, but both Zap and Shockwave grew bored and impatient. At several points, Psion stopped and faced the two wordlessly like a wizened professor staring down impertinent students. This amused more than chastened either, but eventually they all made it through to the end of the verbose telepath's description of the isomer explosive's construction.
Zap stared at the current slide; a representation of power demands the isomer creation device would require. "Alright, then we need to see if there are any records showing those kinds of power draws in Iranian power stations."
"We're not exactly on friendly terms with the Iranians, Zap. Our close associations with Western governments in general and the United States in particular make them highly suspicious of our activities, so it may be difficult to extract the information we need through official channels."
Zap leaned back in his chair with a smile sparking across his face as he wove his fingers together and flexed them outwards. Psion watched the gesture out of the corner of his eye and repressed a grin. Zap's enthusiasm for this sort of activity was contagious, but wasn't without risk. Circumventing the authority and "rules of conduct" of normal human beings would not only infuriate them, but also distanced supers from normals in more subtle ways. Every time a super disregarded laws and regulations in favor of expediting an investigation, they'd establish a habit of doing so more and more firmly. Eventually, the pattern led to antisocial behavior and even crime. He'd seen it before. And Zap's peculiar form, already so obviously different from other humans, might already have established a notion in the electrical hero's mind that he really wasn't one of them any longer. Psion resisted the impulse to pursue the suspicion telepathically, but noted the day might come when Zap decides to cross the line into actions the others needed to stop. A contingency plan would be needed for that.
For now, Psion warned, "Careful. It would be simple to trace that back to the U.S. and implicate them. The Iranians are already looking for excuses to worsen relations."
"I don't have to do it from the States. I can follow the grid up to New York, cross over at Niagara, then do everything that needs to be done from Canada. Nobody will pay attention if the Iranians blame Canada."
"Alright, as soon as--" a loud snap of electrical energy signaled Zap's departure and Psion trailed off, shaking his head. He turned to Shockwave and Perdition. "Continuing now with my presentation on a spatial anomaly I detected between the orbits of Saturn and Uranus..."
Zap Visits Canada to Hack Into Iranian Power Station Records
[Lets let Jammygirl fill in the details here.]
Rendezvous with the Saturn-Uranus Anomaly
Back on the Firehawk, Shockwave looked astonished. "Hold on ... there's an object the size of a planet coming through that bubble?"
"Possibly. The distortion grew as I scanned it. It's really quite remarkable, would you like to go see?"
"I'd rather stay here and look at more slides," Shockwave smirked.
"Very well." Psion turned once more to the presentation wall and updated the displays, then pointed at the first and drew a deep breath.
"No, no, no! Psion, I was kidding."
The telepath shut down the presentation and headed towards the door with a smirk of his own. "I know. Now let's go poke around in deep space."
Imperceptibly, the PsiPlane drew to a halt in open space. Uranus, which had been slipping across the field of stars as they approached, halted its motion and became just another point of light among millions. The silence, broken only by the whispered babble of the vehicle's electronics and sigh of the ventilation system, weighed upon the heroes. Shockwave rose from her seat and leaned against the floor-to-ceiling windscreen to look around. "Wow," she said quietly. "We really are a long way from home. Do you have any spacesuits?"
Psion shook his head. "Only some emergency pressurization bubbles in the lockers. But if anything goes wrong, you just climb into one of those and zip up and the bubble will inflate from the pressure difference. It's only good for an hour or so."
Shockwave nodded and moved away from the window as Psion began another lecture. "There. Directly in front of us about one thousand kilometers, is the anomaly."
"Is it small?" asked Perdition.
"It nearly fills the windscreen."
"But I don't see anything."
Psion nodded. "That's because the anomaly is invisible. In fact, it's only detectable at present on subspace and gravitic sensors."
Perdition looked at Psion. "Then why did you bring us all the way out here?"
"I thought you'd enjoy the view."
"It's just empty space, Psion. There's nothing to see."
"Ah, but it's the concept of the thing, Perdition! The effect is real, see on this panel, and this one here? If we could see it, it would fill the window."
"But we can't see it."
Just then, an object drifted slowly past the windscreen outside. Psion and Perdition didn't utter a word as they leaned towards it to watch a plastic envelope just over a meter in diameter containing a hunched Shockwave. She waved enthusiastically and gave them both a thumbs-up sign, then looked around at the surrounding starscape with delight and awe. "Psion, I'm going out on a limb here, but I'd guess you've never brought Shockwave out into space before."
"I never even noticed the airlock alert had triggered. I'll have to reprogram that to make it more obvious."
"How are you going to bring her back in?"
"It won't be hard. At worst, I can go out and haul her in manually. She certainly seems to be enjoying the view."
"Maybe you should add a few spacesuits to your inventory."
Psion nodded, then moved on to other matters. "I'm feeding this data back to Earth. Mindy, are you following this transmission?"
After a moment's pause, Mindy Westerberg responded, "Right here, Psion! I see the data stream you're sending. Wow! That thing is big, I wish I could see it!"
"So do I," muttered Perdition.
"If I'm not mistaken, we'll all get that opportunity very soon. Can you run an analysis on it and tell me what you find?"
"Hang on, I'm running some projections on it right now. Mind you these models might not be absolutely correct, but ..."
"We understand, Mindy. Please go on."
A few minutes passed. Psion spent that time rechecking his own calculations while Perdition watched Shockwave's graceful tumble. "Okay, Psion, I can't be more specific until we spend more time gathering gravitic changes, but I project an object with the mass of a dwarf planet coming through sometime in the next few weeks.
"That doesn't leave us much time, Mindy."
"Sorry, Psion. I can't change the laws of physics. Only bend them a little now and then."
Perdition asked, "If there's someone coming through that, is there any chance they're friendly?"
Psion checked his consoles, then tapped out a sequence of commands. A series of short tones played over the vessel's speakers and Perdition began counting the tones. "Prime numbers?"
Psion nodded. "A good first-contact protocol. Any civilization with a concept of math should recognize the first eleven prime numbers and understand that the signal isn't natural in origin. I'm sending it via a subspace beam directly into the center of the anomaly. Hopefully, we'll have some kind of reply momentarily." Perdition and Psion waited, then the telepath repeated the transmission. And again. In total, he sent the first eleven prime numbers eleven times and never saw any sign of a reply from the anomaly.
Perdition regarded Psion then asked, "It's time to get Shockwave back in, isn't it?"
Data From Iran
Zap returned to the Firehawk with data for more detailed analysis. A half hour later, he called the group together in the mission room to announce, "Ship's statisticians found an anomalous use in Northern Pakistan from a hydroelectric facility in Kazikistan. It looks like the core was made thirty miles northeast of Peshawar in a village called Jalala."
"Wait. I was kidding earlier. We really do have ship's statisticians on board?"
Psion cleared his throat and said, "Shockwave, we have a fully detailed Wiki available on this organization's staff and operations. Read the Wiki!"
Investigation at Jalala
Zap coalesced in a steel building and called the rest of the team.
Containers from Australia with traces of haffnium oxide.
Perdition, disguised as the president of Iran, walked into the nearby town to ask questions of the locals. The person he approached, carrying an AK-47, was predictably unfriendly and leveled his weapon on Perdition, ordering him to the ground. “How dare you point a gun at me?” The guard fired into the air and pointed again. Over the switchboard, Psion advised the hero to cooperate. Shockwave whipped through and took the guard's gun. Perdition willed him to submit, then levitated himself and his captive up to rendezvous with the Psiplane.
“What is your name? Speak.”
"Who do you work for?"
“Where is he?”
“In his house.”
“The empty building at the top of the hill ... who was there?”
“Two years ago.”
“Oooh. Some soldiers. Some other men, from Afghanistan, they were building something, I think.”
“What were they building?”
“I do not know.”
“You lie!” Perdition struck Mahmud across the face.
"Perdition," the telepath protested by thought, "I don't approve of that kind of treatment."
Mahmud insisted at the same time, “I do not know!”
“Who does know?”
Perdition heaved a sigh and looked at Psion. "Alright, let's throw this one back. Can we put him down far enough away so that he doesn't get back until morning?"
Psion nodded and directed the PsiPlane across the desert towards a remote stretch of unsurfaced road, asking Shockwave to rendezvous there.
Rafiq Saleem Akram considered himself a practical man. A logical man not prone to superstition. But he'd have to confess to moment of terror when he saw the UFO hovering over a patch of ground in the distance. Silent and unlit, he saw the strange machine mostly by the way it blocked the stars. He kept trying to make sense of the alien shape, but no matter how often his mind wanted to recoil from the fact of what he saw, his eyes refused to betray him and look away. So he watched, at first frozen in horror, and then, wrapping his fore-arm in his rifle's shoulder strap, in determination. He forced himself to be brave and moved closer as two figures floated to the ground from the machine and joined a third. They looked like men, but in the dark it was hard to be sure. He peered through his weapon sight, but it didn't help. A moment passed, and one of the figures rose up, returning to the craft as silently as it had descended. One of the remaining figures, the larger one, dropped to his knees and Rafiq recognized something human in the movement, so he swung his sight towards the other.
The ground near Shockwave's feet erupted into a small cloud of dirt a moment before she heard the crack of a gunshot. A few hundred feet away, a man was running towards her, his rifle already flashing a second time. But before that bullet could hit its target, she moved. Fast.
Rafiq slowed and stopped as he watched an eruption of dirt follow a zig-zag path heading in his direction. At its front, he could almost make out the shape of the intruder he'd shot at. He shook his head in disbelief and stepped backwards, realizing too late that the aliens were impossibly quick. He pulled the trigger again and again; if he could just hit it with a bullet before it got to him--
The dust cloud rushed past, spraying him with debris as something tugged at his gun. But the alien lost its grip and skidded to a halt. This close, even by little more than dim starlight, Rafiq could tell he wasn't confronting an alien. It was a woman. Relief flooded over him as his muzzle swung to point at her chest. One shot should do it, two or three would make sure. His finger tightened on the trigger.
The ground around Rafiq lit up like day. His head swiveled to look at the UFO and its dazzling spotlight just as the craft made a soft roaring noise. Powerful streams of water shot out of the wings of the craft, but by the time they reached him, the bulk of the water's force had broken down into droplets and spray. Soaking him and the ground, but little more. Not aliens, after all, something told Rafiq. American super beings. Stupid American super beings. Very well, let them watch helplessly as he killed one. His gaze swung back to the woman standing a few feet away as she sank down low with her fingers splayed wide towards the ground.
Shockwave touched the water and discharged a powerful shock through the water-soaked ground. Bright whips of arcing current snared the Pakistani guard. He convulsed and dropped senseless into the mud.
When he awoke later, he'd tell no one of his encounter. He wouldn't mention that he'd twice had an American super in his sights and missed or that he'd been bested by a woman who left him to awake cold and covered in filth come morning. Rafiq Saleem Akram was a practical man, after all.
Shockwave went to Aman's house and phased through a wall. She entered a storage room with barrels and bolts of cloth. Moving through another wall, she moved deeper into the house and found stairs going down. She moved stealthily down the stairwell. Zap shunted down through the structure beside her. Around a corner, past a bunch of crates and sacks, a box marked “grenads”. Down the end of the hall, a door. Shockwave moved through into a corridor lined with corrugated metal.
Psion scanned from the Psiplane, looking for unusual structures or inhabitants.
Shockwave poked her head through another door and Psion suddenly noticed a consciousness awaken and on the ceiling, The Bug swung at her and hit her in the head for 8 points, tossing her back and slamming her into the wall.
Zap watched in stunned surprise as Shockwave fell back. The Bug stepped through the curtain and struck Zap for 7 points. Psion tried to lock on with combat telepathy, but had no success because of The Bug's alien nature.
Shockwave grabbed a grenade in each hand and thrust one non-corporeally into The Bug's abdomen. Zap struck the insect with a bolt to knock it away from her. The bug swung, but missed. Shockwave pushed the other grenade into it. The first grenade went off at that moment, causing her another 8 points. The Bug died. Shockwave loaded the insect on her back and took it up out of the building. Zap started to rush out of the subterranean complex., grabbing electronic components on the way.
Psion searched for Aman, but the disarray indicated that he wasn't present. All team members rendezvoused on the Psiplane and withdrew from the area.