March 24, 2012
4Sworn, Session Fifteen
Whither the Amber Room?
"So you're saying you gave him the Amber Room?" said Shockwave accusingly.
"Neither consciously nor willingly," replied Psion flatly. "And I might add that I appear to have returned an hour before even meeting The Auteur, so while I'm not acquainted with any precedent in contract law..."
"Alright," interrupted Zap in an exasperated tone, "I say we destroy the thing so nobody, including The Auteur, can get it."
"No!" exclaimed Shockwave, "The Room is the only connection we have to the bastard. We're not destroying it until we kick his ass and lock him up for good."
The Mantoids Contacted System 4ce with Information
Psion said aloud, “I wonder what we need to do to capture the Auteur.” He then started for the chamber, hoping it would provide answers. But as he approached the threshold of the Room, the Firehawk received a signal from the Mantoid "Dave". Psion paused, slightly puzzled. “Curious … this didn't happen the first time.”
Shockwave leaned into Zap, “I think he makes this stuff up. He pretends to go back in time just to mess with our heads.” Zap nodded, “He's pretty bored … brain the size of a planet.”
Zap split off a duplicate, sending him into the computer system to password-protect the Amber Room files and destroy any unencrypted versions. Zap 2 then collected the paper copies of the plans from the lab and destroyed them.
Psion, meanwhile, stared at the display indicating Dave's call with increasing confusion. “Our actions, since my return, shouldn't have changed things appreciably beyond this ship. They certainly shouldn't have reached Antarctica.” He looked at the others, but they appeared more amused than puzzled by the mystery. Psion tentatively raised his communicator and answered.
“This is the one you have named Dave. We have investigated transmissions we were receiving from another possible group of survivors from our craft.”
The alien provided a set of coordinates.
“I'd like to discuss the potential ramifications of that with you.”
“Very well, we are in the midst of a security lockdown on our ship at the moment. At the conclusion of that situation, we'll meet you at the Gruber Mountains.”
“A security lockdown? What would that be in relation to?”
Now it was Zap's turn to look confused. “A security lockdown? When did this happen?”
Psion muted the communicator. “It didn't happen. None of this happened!”
“Then why are you telling him that it did?”
“Because I suspect this is just an effort to get us off the ship.”
Dave's voice continued over the muted connection, “Depending on the nature of the emergency you are responding to, the substance of our conversation might be extremely relevant.”
Psion paused to consider, then unmuted the microphone, “We are expecting an imminent attack on the Firehawk from an individual of considerable but undefined capabilities. One who has extraordinary insight into the workings of the universe.”
“I see, this emergency would then seem to be of a different nature than the one I anticipate. Though the one of which I'm speaking would likely be of far greater scale.”
“How big a scale?”
“Planetary. You had advanced numerous questions during our last meeting about the nature of our craft and civilization. I sought consensus from the group about how to respond, and the results of that meeting as well as the transmission we are currently receiving have led to the conclusion that we must divulge that information.”
Psion looked up at the others. “They're going to answer our questions about their presence on this planet.”
Shockwave tilted her head. “That's convenient timing.”
“Timing! Isn't that the interesting question! This didn't happen before!”
Perdition smirked, “You keep saying that.”
Psion returned his attention to the communicator, “Dave, does this happen to involve any sort of temporal mechanics?”
The alien's pause while answering was longer than normal. “Possibly.”
The telepath gambled by revealing the truth, “Dave, we've been experimenting with time travel, and I've just stepped backwards in time one hour. Your call, and none of this conversation happened the first time. Could what you have to tell us have affected the timeline in such a fashion?”
Another long pause. “Not that I'm aware of.”
Psion shook his head. This didn't make sense. The hour was now unfolding differently than the first passage and he couldn't explain the differences. He glanced at the chronometer on his wrist communicator and compared it to the clock on the wall and noted that they were the same. “How is that possible? I didn't go into the Amber Room the first time and hallucinate everything that...” His voice trailed off for a moment. “Oh.”
Perdition, Shockwave, and Zap looked at him expectantly. Zap asked, “What's going on, Psion?”
“I think there's a possibility I didn't actually go back in time.”
Zap doubled over in laughter. Shockwave asked, “Do you mean he won't be here in forty-five minutes?”
“There's no way to ascertain one way or the other. The Amber Room might be more complex than I initially gave it credit for.”
“So this did happen before or … ?”“I don't know!" Psion turned in a slow circle as he thought, apparently forgetting the evidence from the Cape Times in the sudden affliction of self-doubt. "It may have happened...”
|Psion's Personal Log|
|Because we all know, and you can hear it since you're now saying this in your own voice, I mean, my own voice that Psion really did unlock a method of time travel and will surely be able to use this for game purposes by the next campaign. For only a couple of inventing points. Because Psion is that good. And you should all stop laughing at him. Just gaze at him in awe. No, not the John Wayne kind of "aww". Anyway, let's get back to the transcript.|
“We'd prefer to discuss this matter in person, whether that would involve you transporting us to your location or simply visiting us here.”
Psion nodded, “Give us twenty minutes to wrap up our operations on the Firehawk, and then we will visit you with all possible alacrity.” He turned to the others, “Guys, let's strip down a few walls from the Amber Room. We'll put them on the PsiPlane and take them with us. We'll leave the twisting panel in the incorrect position.”
Shockwave proposed leaving a fake panel depicting The Auteur kissing her butt.
As they worked, she pointed out, “I guess this is another reason we should just destroy this thing. We can't keep taking it apart every time we go somewhere.”
“We could always reassemble it on the Moon or some other remote location. Just not Mars. Mars isn't good. You don't want Poltergeist finding the Amber Room.”
“Bad guys can get to the Moon if we can.”
The Team Flew to the Gruber Mountains
Darkness greeted the team as the Psiplane landed in Antarctica. The vehicle's powerful landing lights shone across the ravine, slicing into the persistent gloom. Zap split into two and scouted the area to make sure there were no surprises while Psion swept the vicinity with an arsenal of sensors.
From a line of caves, a lone individual strode across the frozen landscape, and the team stepped out to meet him. At his invitation, they followed Dave back into the Mantoid lair.
Past a cleft in the rocks, and through thermal fabric draped across the entrance to a cave, they found themselves in an area lit with artificial light. Here and there, equipment boxes and consoles decorated the interior. Psion drew a psicorder and gestured with it to Dave, “May I?”
“May you what?”
“I'd like to scan your equipment with this device. I suspect your displays are capable of emitting a broader spectrum of light than we are able to see.”
Dave acquiesced, noting the limitations of human vision, and Psion prompted the instrument's telepathic interface into action. Dave moved to one of the consoles and adjusted it. Colors on the display sharpened as he began to speak, “There was a transmission of which we were previously unaware that the survivors on Bouvet apparently monitored for some time. With the data from that site, we've been able to track the signal as well, and by triangulating with the Bouvet site's data, we've been able to locate its position.” A world map appeared on the display. Bearing indicators from Bouvet Island and Gruber Mountains converged on eastern Iran.
The team looked at each other and Psion asked, “Dave, what would you like to do about this? Do you want to move your colony to theirs?”
The insect appeared hesitant. “That may not be the best scenario. We are uncertain of their condition. This is a signal from an automated beacon that has been operating for some time. We have not yet established any communications with survivors there. I'm afraid there might be a somewhat complicated situation arising there.”
“Complicated in what way?”
“We have not been especially open with information about our species to date.”
“We haven't noticed,” smirked Shockwave.
“The cultural differences between your civilization and our own are perhaps as great as the visible ones. Our civilization is strongly consensus driven. We do not have the same emphasis or romanticization of individual freedom or choice that your culture does. In a situation like this, when a cell of our species is broken up under unplanned circumstances ...”
Psion finished for him, “You have to establish a new consensus. What is the typical outcome of re-introducing disparate cells after prolonged isolation?”
“There are means for doing so. Ordinarily, this shouldn't be difficult if the normal cultural protocols are recognized. However if the casualties in that group are large, and there were fewer survivors than we have here, those survivors might be influenced by a culture that was similarly hierarchical and consensus-driven. It's possible they might seek to adopt themselves into that group."
“Bugs gone wild?” Shockwave asked.
“We recognize that one of the consequences of your species psychology is that your world is fraught with cultural conflicts and outright warfare. We therefore thought that it was a point of significant concern, and one you should be made aware of, that a number of elements of our species with the technology of our species may have been adopted into a culture currently hostile to your own.”
Psion nodded, “If we were to re-introduce you to this particular cell, would you be able to regain a consensus with them and persuade them to withdraw from contact with the Iranians?”
“It is certainly possible over time.”
“Is it possible that they would overwhelm and alter your own consensus and drive you into cooperating with the Iranians?”
“We've maintained cultural continuity and identity, and desire only to escape from this planet and return to our homeworld. However the individual elements currently involved with this other nation may no longer have the same priorities.”
“Dave, I believe this is the first time you've expressed such a desire. To return to your homeworld.”
“Homeworld may not be an entirely appropriate translation of the concept.”
“System? Universe? Reality?”
“This relates to other important issues which we desire to discuss with you.”
“We can repatriate you easily.”
“Only if there was a fixed destination to which to repatriate us,” qualified Dave.
“Do you think it may have been destroyed?”
“Not destroyed, per se.”
“Under the rule of another consensus?”
“Yes. The term in your language would be 'reactionary'.”
Shockwave brought the discussion back to Earth. “So can we just drop off a radio so you guys can talk to each other?”
“Formulation of a plan would require us to know more about how many survivors are present in Iran and the circumstances of their presence there.”
Psion asked, “How would we get you that information? Do you want us to take you there?”
“I suspect we would be less well-equipped to gather information in that environment than natives of this planet would be.”
“I tend to agree, but you might be able to provide important guidance if we were to encounter a nest of Mantoids.”
“We are quite willing to supply close support.
Dave Accompanied System 4ce to Iran
In the Khorasan province of northeastern Iraq, the Psiplane descended on a meteoric trajectory towards the coordinates the Mantoids had provided. Psion puzzled over the distress beacon, since it was on such a narrow subspace frequency that it was difficult to find. The vehicle hovered over a salt marsh about 200 meters from the source of the beacon. The land was inhospitable for miles in every direction.
Shockwave stepped up to the flight window and looked out towards where the Psiplane's spotlights pinpointed the beacon's source. Black, brackish water reflected back from between clumps of thick marsh grasses. “Would any survivors have had time to get out before it sank? Maybe the beacon just activated automatically.”
Dave chittered a moment before his translation medallion answered, “No, the nature of this signal indicates it was activated by a survivor.”
Psion probed the area with a robotic claw without effect. “It'd be easier if I go get it,” Shockwave volunteered. With that, she phased through the transparent windscreen and dropped down into the bog.
Phasing through the solid and liquid matter, she headed in the direction Psion suggested. In a moment, she felt a variation in the way matter tingled when she moved through it and knew she'd come in contact with something inorganic. A moment later, she surfaced, carrying a sphere, dripping with marsh water and about the size of a beach ball. She brought it aboard and the team gathered around the artifact.
Psion noted that the device was rather large for a beacon, but Dave pointed out, “It has a large power supply, data units, and sensors. It's meant to function as a probe as well as a beacon.”
Shockwave asked, “If they triggered this remotely, how close would they have to be to work it?”
“Within approximately five kilometers. But if they moved away from the site, protocol would have been for them to modify the signal to indicate this, and potentially to leave a message within the beacon.”
Psion asked, “Is there any indication of such a modification?”
“There is not.”
“Then there is the possibility they have already been corrupted, or they have perished.”
“Both quite possible," Dave allowed, "But if their deaths were imminent, protocol suggests they should have modified the signal accordingly.”
“Then might they still be in the area?”
“This is my assumption. The conditions here seem reasonably favorable. It seems unlikely to me that they would have moved without leaving a message unless they were unable to do so. I suggest we look on any reasonably stable ground.”
But despite Dave's assurances, the Psiplane's sensors could detect no sign of the distinctive power cells the Mantoids used. Without a lead to follow, the team turned to Dave for another suggestion. “Perhaps you could contact the local governments for more information?”
Shockwave asked Zap, “Can you hack into their computers?”
Zap shrugged, “I can try.”
“The nearest large community is the city of Mashad,” Perdition pointed out. “Let's head towards there.”
“Actually,” Zap said, “can't we just go back to the Firehawk? I can work from there, and if anything goes wrong, we won't be found in-country.”
Research On the Lost Mantoids
Shockwave found a reference in a February 1980 issue of the Weekly World News to alien space craft and giant grasshoppers described by Asman Mustafa, a 22 year-old truck mechanic from rural Iran. Using this lead, Zap began looking through government census records to track down the witness.
Another Visit from The Auteur
Meanwhile, Psion was giving Dave a tour of the Firehawk's facilities. As they progressed to the flight deck, the telepath was startled to see a couple of deck chairs next to the Psiplane. He raised a mental switchboard and alerted the others to the possible presence of The Auteur.
Shockwave hid Karybdis' brain in the cheese locker.
Psion had Dave hide in a lifeboat.
Zap split in half. Zap 2 circled around behind The Auteur's position while Zap 1 joined Psion as he approached the flight deck. The Auteur sat quietly in one deck chair as Psion strode up and sat down in the other. Perdition took up position behind Psion.
Shockwave slipped in under the deck beneath the intruder.
“To what do we owe the pleasure of your visit, Mr. Frame?”
“I was disappointed to see that you didn't have the Amber Room in working order.”
“What an interesting statement. Are you here to offer me a choice … perhaps between Sybil and Firehawk if I give you the room?”
“That agreement has already been made.”
“That agreement hasn't been made. You didn't leave me with an opportunity to refuse your offer.”
“Of course not. That wouldn't have been to anyone's advantage.”
“It would have been to my advantage.”
“Not at all,” replied The Auteur, a bit of sourness tainting his customary smile.
“Why not? I rather like having the Amber Room. It's certainly worth scientific study.”
“Would you rather like having your friends and associates dead?”
“I've learned that most of them are able to take care of themselves. Occasionally there is a loss, but it is never in vain. They all know what they've signed up for.”
“For a hero, you show distressingly little interest in making things better," sneered The Auteur, a chuckle in his voice but a furrow of short-temperedness in his brow, "Or in taking very much action at all, it would seem to me.”
“I prefer to sit back and understand the situation before I act.” Odd, Psion thought, I expected Shockwave to have acted by now. That's when he noticed she was no longer on the switchboard. “In any event, your arrangement wasn't one that left me with what I considered a suitable option. It should have been clear after four years, it was pretty clear I didn't like either choice.”
“You've betrayed a confidence.”
“Not at all.”
“It appears I have to reassess my whole manner of dealing with you.”
“You didn't offer a confidence of any value in the first place. You negotiated in bad faith and attempted to take from us the product of our own labor without our agreement.”
“Your own work,” The Auteur sneered, suppressing indignation. “It was a collaborative effort at best.”
“And more than you could ever accomplish. Otherwise you wouldn't need to come to us. Furthermore, I was able to refine Leibniz's work.”
“It is The Auteur's misfortune that such characters as yourself are the necessary tools with which we work.”
“I am here to do your bidding?”
“You are the pastels with which I create on the grand canvas of the world!”
“All you're trying to do is provoke me.”
“Absolutely I am! Trying to provoke you into some sort of action worthy of watching. Some of your colleagues have the right idea.”
At that moment, a pair of hands extended from the flight deck about five feet ahead of Psion and made grabby motions. Then Shockwave's head surfaced with a frustrated grimace. She saw The Auteur and launched herself at him. But the instant her hands closed around his ankles, he changed position; vanishing from the deck chair, and reappearing in a standing position a few feet away.
Shockwave rose from the deck and seethed. “You want action? Fine. Kiss the Amber Room goodbye.” Then she dove down into the ship.
Psion, still seated in the lounge chair shook his head and made a tsk-tsk sound. “Do you see what you do when you provoke people? This is why I have learned to be calm and patient.”
“At least what she's doing is worth watching!”
Zap threw a blast of lightning at The Auteur's head. The electricity lit the villain's body from within and long tongues of lightning flicked off his body to the deck, leaving spiderweb tracings of scorch marks on its surface. Zap's expression of satisfaction at the hit morphed to puzzlement at the absurd magnitude of the effect.
Psion chuckled. “He even brings his own special effects. Are you through showing off?”
The Auteur looked invigorated, joyous even.
Shockwave, over the switchboard, said, “Wait a minute. He feeds off of action!”
Zap's eyebrows went up. “So … Psion's the ultimate weapon! He is our atom-bomb of inaction! Damn, I hate when he's right!”
“Well … that's insulting,” muttered Psion.
The Venue Changed to the Strait of Hormuz
The Auteur whirled. “There, you see? That's the thing you need to see more of. Better if you'd saved it for something where it was actually of consequence.”
Zap looked suspicious. As he looked around, he realized there were other ships nearby that he hadn't been aware of before. The weather had improved with beautiful blue skies and brighter seas. One of the ships was an Aegis cruiser, and another two were super-tankers.
Perdition observed, “We've been moved. He's changed the setting of the movie.”
Zap shook his head. “Alright, Auteur, what's the plot? Line?”
“You haven't proven yourself to be much for action, so we'll stick with reaction for the time being!”
Psion slumped his shoulders. He tapped his communicator. “Captain Ramius? I recommend battle stations.”
Perdition caught The Auteur's eye. “You're boring,” he said significantly, clutching his ring. “Go to sleep.” The Auteur vanished.
Perdition noticed white streams of smoke rising from the nearby shore. Both Zaps took off to intercept them. Over the speakers, the Captain's voice sounded, “Clear decks! Clear decks!”
Psion and Perdition looked at each other and boarded the Psiplane. The craft lept from the deck and shot into the sky.
Shockwave continued down into the hangar and began launching vibratory blasts against the panels in the Amber Room.
Zap 1 appeared on the bridge of the U.S.S. Leyte Gulf, “Uh … Captain, do you need any help dealing with these missiles, or do you have it?”
The Captain, along with other bridge personnel, appeared startled by Zap's sudden appearance. “When did you get here?”
“Yeah, I'm not really sure. Let's just go with it. Quick. Do you need any help?”
The captain headed back towards CIC. “Seem to be 'STYX' or 'Silkworm'-type anti-ship missiles,” reported one of the officers in CIC. “Truck-mounted launchers, sir, but more than we thought they had.”
Zap reported back the situation to the Firehawk. Shockwave decided she needed to get out into the action and left the ship; a big rooster-tail of water behind her as she raced across the water.
Aboard the Psiplane, a signal came in from the Firehawk. “This is Anastasia. We're acquiring all the missiles and prioritizing threats. Looks like we're tracking thirty to forty so far.”
“How many can you take care of,” asked Psion.
“I think that's within our ability.”
“Do you have adequate sensor feeds?”
“We do. There is some obstruction from some of the super tankers.”
“Is my position giving you any advantage?”
“It's helping us work out where we need to be. But we're going to have to get the ship up to speed.”
After firing off her own missiles, the Leyte Gulfs crew busied themselves trying to launch Seahawk helicopters.
“Anastasia, this is Psion. Is there any way we can share our sensor feeds with that cruiser to assist it?”
“We're making it available to them. It's a question of how quickly they can handle it.”
At 720 miles per hour, Shockwave streaked across the water towards shore. Six small speedboats came out of an inlet there. She realized the trucks on shore were a greater threat than the boats, but the boats were on the way. She picked one, randomly phasing and removing material from it. The little boat heeled over on its side and cartwheeled to a sinking stop.
On shore, Shockwave saw two trucks driving up to launch positions. She destroyed the radar dishes on both of them. She repeated this attack on three more trucks, depriving them of a chance to launch.
Psion wheeled the Psiplane around and dove towards the water. Only meters from the surface, he lined up on the remaining speedboats and accelerated to several times the speed of sound. Beneath the ship, extreme variations of air pressure and a supersonic shockwave kicked up the water into a frothing geyser which Psion led straight at the Iranian gunboats. Perdition grew nervous, “Are you sure you know what you're doing, Psion?”
The telepath grinned in response as, one-by-one, the first, second, third, and fourth speedboats vanished under the superfast deluge. But a minor miscalculation on the approach skidded the Psiplane into the water near the last boat and sent it skipping out of control over the surface.
Zap 2 made it to shore and infiltrated the closest launch truck. He looked for a command and control network, but he could find none. It appeared the trucks were simply ordered to drive out to their launch position, fire their missiles, then return. Disappointed that there wasn't an easy way to sabotage all the trucks at once, he decided instead to leap to the nearest missile to detonate its warhead. The explosion destroyed both the launcher truck and the other nearby truck.
As the explosion cleared, he and Shockwave noticed that the drivers of the missile trucks were bailing out of their vehicles and running like hell.
Under water, Psion and Perdition recovered their wits. Although protected from severe jolts by a kind of psionium grace, the view they'd endured was enough to unsettle one's sense of balance. Psion grabbed the control sphere and brought the vehicle up out of the sea in time to witness a volley of phaser shots from the Firehawk blast remaining threats from the air.
Shockwave summed up the incident, “We won the battle, but if we really wanted to beat The Auteur we would have just sat down on those damned lawn chairs.”
After System 4ce brought the battle to a halt, Perdition, Psion, Shockwave, and Zap returned to the Firehawk. Psion retrieved Dave from the lifeboat. Though witnessing the entire incident with senses more acute than humans, he could offer no insight about their sudden appearance in the Straits of Hormuz.
“That,” Psion informed their Mantoid ally, “was an act of one of our adversaries.”
“Enemy,” Shockwave corrected.
“Oh, please stop glamorizing the guy! He's just a nuisance.”
“He's a pretentious git,” said Perdition. “A failed screenwriter. How pathetic is that?”
Zap joked, “We should blog about him. That'd piss him off!”
Psion shook his head. “Let's just play shuffleboard, instead.”
Shockwave smiled, “Alright, let's just relax, kick back, get the barbecues going! Let's move this ship off the coast of Hawaii. That's it, we're done, we're on vacation.”
Perdition got started on a list of “The Ten Things I Hate About The Auteur.” Psion taught Dave the finer points of shuffleboard, who quickly demonstrated a talent for the game.
Shockwave finally remembered to retrieve Karybdis' brain from the cheese closet. Psion suggested giving her a TV to watch. Sitting around on the forward lounge, the team discussed making a film to mock The Auteur. Perdition could easily impersonate the man. They considered satirizing him, putting together a “mock-umentary”, and other ways to humiliate his character.
For the two week journey to Hawaii, they each found boring ways to pass their time.
Psion Read War and Peace and Doctor Zhivago Aloud
On the fantail lounge, amidst a large circle of usually empty chairs, Psion read from the famous works of literature, careful to give each character his or her own voice. His attention to detail, and commitment to reading each chapter in both English and Russian for the benefit of the mixed crew did little to expand his audience.
Shockwave Played tic-tac-toe with Karybdis.
Karybdis didn't have much interest, but Shockwave gave her every opportunity to play.
Zap Painted Bulkheads and Watched Them Dry
He took copious notes and graphed the results as he noted the continuum between wet paint and paint that was dry to the touch, but not really fully dry.
But not cinematically. Breathe in. Hold it. Breathe out. Breathe in. Hold it. Breathe out. Note the tension in his toe. Feel the tension ease as he relaxed it. Feel the tension in his foot. Feel the tension ease as he relaxed it. Breathe in. Hold it. Breathe out.
Shockwave Switched to Jenga
Karybdis stared, unblinking from within the brain support tank that had been disconnected from her robot body. She showed no more interest in stacked blocks of wood than a pencil and paper game, but Shockwave studiously kept the poor woman company.
Psion Reconstructed and Returned to the Amber Room
Using his personal plans, Psion directed Mindy and a small team to rebuild the Amber Room, fixing the damage done by Shockwave. When Mindy's team finished, Psion thanked them for their effort and dismissed them. He circled the reconstructed chamber slowly, debating his next actions with himself. While he didn't want to do anything The Auteur might find interesting, he was also positive the team's effort to simply bore the man only prolonged the conflict. Arthur Frame had to have a weakness, and his interest in the Amber Room was a clue. Someone had to learn more, and so far he was the only one of the team to get positive results out of the artifact. Somewhat impulsively, and perhaps with a bit too much overconfidence, he stepped into the room all alone without alerting anyone of his intentions.
Nothing at all.
Then he noticed he could no longer sense Firehawk.
Psion and Karybdis Talked
Exiting the Amber Room, Psion still could not detect his old friend and mentor. He reached out with his mind, sweeping the ship for a sign of Firehawk, but found no sign of him. He did notice that Karybdis seemed more alert, so he set concerns for his friend aside until he had more facts and opened a telepathic link to the woman's disembodied mind.
“Karybdis, can you hear me?”
“Yeah.” A response at last, albeit a surly one.
“This is Psion.”
“What do you want?”
“Do you remember the choice I offered you?”
“Have you given it any thought?”
“What do you need?”
“What do I need? You can give me my body back.”
“I can give you your original body back.”
“You have to understand, you are excessively dangerous in your robot body.”
“Yeah, aren't I now.” The voice in Psion's head at last had a glimmer of humor in it.
“You were terrifying.”
“I'll tell you what, I promise to be much nicer.”
Psion chuckled over this, but the conversation was forcing Karybdis to dwell on what she'd lost, so he changed the subject. “What do you know about The Auteur?”
“What about him?”
“He's got us in an interesting position right now where he wants us to do something … to act. And we're in a mode where we don't want to do anything.”
“What's the point of that?”
“It's better than acceding to his demands.”
“His demands to do something?”
“Has he ever made demands of you?”
“Well, right now, I'm ordering you not to keel over dead.” If she'd had lips, they would clearly have been smirking.
“... I appreciate that.”
“Whatever you do," she continued, "don't overload the reactor on this ship.”
“But … about The Auteur. Has he ever had you do something?”
“He was giving us advice and information on how to put the Amber Room together.”
“We've completed our own Amber Room.”
“And you're sitting around not doing anything?”
“It seems to be a rather difficult thing to master. We put it together, I tried to use it. I believe I was able to successfully time travel with it after an experience in which I was almost at one with the universe with it. But it's rather difficult to control.”
“Yeah, I suppose it would be, depending on what you wanted to do with it.”
“What are you supposed to do with it?”
“My understanding was that it was kind of like the blueprint and master control for the fabric of reality. You could basically remake the universe however you want with it.”
“That sounds to me like the failed efforts of Doctor Medusa using psionium.”
“Yeah, except that she was … I don't know, I wasn't in a position to use either of these things. Medusa promised us all a lot of things. That once she had the power, she'd be able to remake the world 'better' and that we'd all benefit from that. This Amber Room is more like a machine, and, well, I don't know why things went wrong for Doctor Medusa, but we'd be able to use the machine to make realities for ourselves.”
Psion began to doubt he was actually conversing with Karybdis. There was a possibility this was more manipulation courtesy of The Auteur. He began making his way out of the hangar deck. “So is it possible I'm occupying a reality of my own right now?”
“I guess arguably we all are.”
Psion sensed that Karybdis had become perplexed, but at least she was attempting to respond to his questions. “How do we break out of it?” he continued.
“Why would you want to?”
“I'm more empirically-minded. I'd rather not be too absorbed in my own delusions.”
“Well, I guess we're just different that way.”
“Would you rather be wrapped up in your own hallucinations?”
“As long as they convinced me.”
By now, he'd found Shockwave. He pointed to his own head to indicate he was conversing with someone telepathically. Worried that his switchboard may have been compromised, he was reluctant to add Shockwave. “In other words, they'd be indistinguishable from reality. So what do you recommend we do with the Amber Room?”
“Put me in it.”
“Put you in it, Karybdis?”
Shockwave shook her head as understanding dawned. “She wants to go into the Amber Room? What's she going to do in there?”
“Karybdis if we put you in there, would you remake reality in your own vision, or would you just become wrapped up in your own delusion? I'm sorry, but putting you in the Amber Room is more dangerous than putting you back in your robot body.”
“I'd rather have a human body than a robot one.”
“Well I can give you that.”
“I can regenerate your old body.”
“I don't want my old body.”
“Why? What was wrong with it?”
“There was nothing especially good about it.”
“We can help you with that. I wouldn't do any genetic manipulation with it, but after recovery, we'd help you train. You've been through a horrific series of events. I'd rather see you rehabilitated than incarcerated. You'd no longer be such a supreme threat to people and you'd no longer scare the Hell out of me.”
Karybdis' mind chuckled at that admission.
Psion brought the discussion back to The Auteur. “How did you get in touch with him?”
“We didn't. He always got in touch with us.”
“Do you know where he's located?”
Psion finally relented and put the others on the switchboard. “Here, would you like to talk to somebody else?”
Karybdis answered, “Not especially.”
Shockwave snickered. “You're just angry because I beat you at tic-tac-toe, Jenga, and pinochle.”
Psion announced, “By the way, I've lost Firehawk. I haven't had any contact with him since the first time I went into the Amber Room.”
Shockwave asked, “So … are we all still in your time-travel delusion?”
“Not necessarily. It's possible Firehawk noticed the Amber Room himself and used it to escape back into the real world.” Zap thought, “I'll go do a search of world news and see if there's any information about someone with Firehawk's abilities out there.”
[Digression about German-made churros.]
“So what have you people had to do with him,” Karybdis asked.
Psion shrugged, “He's been encouraging us to get more involved with your group. Forcing encounters with you.”
“That seems kind of strange.”
“It does, except The Auteur is more interested in manipulating people around him into dramatic, almost theatrical creations.”
“He seemed sincere in wanting to help us get the pieces and assemble the room.”
“Sure, because you were advancing the plot of the movie in his mind. We're all players in his production and the world's his stage as far as he's concerned.”
“Shee-Ariel seemed to agree about what the Amber Room could do if we assemble it.”
Shockwave suggested, “Go in there and take away his power!”
Psion nodded, “Or go in there and make him successful as a movie director back in the 1980s.”
Karybdis asked, “So would you guys have left us alone if he hadn't been involved?”
“There would have been fewer encounters, but your group was involved in affairs that would have caught our attention anyway. For example, the destruction of the World Trade Center.”
“We didn't have anything to do with that.”
“He did. We've recovered surveillance footage showing him at the scene a week before. We've also found videos of the bomber.”
“Was anyone else in the footage?”
“At the moment, we're not aware of anyone but the usual bystanders.”
“And were they all part of the conspiracy,” Karybdis asked skeptically.
“They played a part by making the incident more dramatic.”
“Maybe all he did there was the same thing he did with you guys and us.”
Shockwave said, “He's still guilty. Whether he caused the people to blow up the World Trade Center or only knew it was going to happen, he's still guilty. He could have done something to prevent it.”
The team decided it was best to try to use the Amber Room to “fix” Arthur Frame's original career. To find a way to make him a successful filmmaker. Psion shut down the switchboard and returned to the chamber in the hangar deck with that intent. “Objective number one: the Pandochle Lens is in Adventurers of America control back in the 1980s, so Arthur can't find it.” He stepped into the Amber Room.
Psion experienced a weird oscillation between the beginning of the universe and a sense of ultimate infinity. His focus waned as he rode that oscillation, and he soon forgot that he even had an objective.
Shockwave went up on deck, chewing a sandwich and looking out at the sea. But the view had taken on a surreal nature as the cloudy sky blended evenly with fog on the horizon and mists on the water. It was too surreal a view, like a becalmed sea from a horror movie. She hit her communicator and told Zap, “Somethings wrong. Get Psion out of the Amber Room!”
Psion Got Wiped From Existence
Zap stepped into the room and stopped. It was empty. And why was he supposed to be in there? He signaled Shockwave. “The room's empty. What did you want me to do again?”
“I don't know, there's something odd going on out here. Is the Amber Room buzzing or anything?”
“No. Why don't I just take it apart? I don't see any point to this thing if we can't use it.”
“Hold on,” she said. “This doesn't feel right.”
Zap checked in with Captain Ramius and was told there were no returns at all on radar or sonar … a condition that should not be. He switched back to Shockwave, “We've got to take this thing apart now.”
“No, no. Listen to me, Shockwave. I'm telling you there's something wrong here.”
Zap re-entered the chamber and shut the door. He sat down and concentrated, but nothing happened. He got up, lit some candles, and sat back down again. Nothing happened. Then he remembered one of the panels needed adjusting, so he fixed that, sat down again and … nothing happened. Scotch! He went to his cabin and got some scotch and brought it back. A drink later, he decided another scotch might work better.
Shockwave gathered notes on the Amber Room in her cabin. Something on the tip of her brain told her she might be able to understand what was going on, but it eluded her. She took the notes to Mindy's office.
Zap's Vision of Maria Laxara
Down in the Amber Room, with a pleasant buzz from the scotch, Zap suddenly had a sense of a creepy pure despair and sadness out in that fog. Of centuries-old depression and gears turning off in the distance. And some minds, other sentients out there in the flowing, empty sea sensing the lost place and feeling like they can make some use of it.
Without realizing how, he was now on the bow of the ship and found Shockwave there as well. The papers in her arms seemed to almost glow in the darkness. In particular, her notes on the Pandocle Lens and the prisoner resonated with him. He had a vision of a woman throwing herself off a ship.
Following the sense of the vision, Zap flew from the deck of the ship to pursue the woman. The water of the ocean was now gone, and the Firehawk floated only in the mist. He pressed closer to his sense of the woman and for an instant, she became a real person. Then he found himself back on the ship with a first name in his mind: Maria. They both went to consult with Mindy and by the time they met with her, Zap realized he now knew the woman's full name: Maria Laxara. They left that with Mindy, then made their way back up on deck.
By now, the mists had cleared, the ship once again floated on a real ocean, and bright stars filled the night sky. They soon learned the ship had altered course while they had been in the fog, going from due east to now a northeast heading. Looking back along the fantail, there was no sign of the mist from which they'd clearly just emerged.
Shockwave went down to the Amber Room and found the candles still burning. She tried the room with no result, so she blew out the candles and left.
Meanwhile Psion began to realize that he was moving through branches of causality; experientially surfing many different universes. He slowly learned to see potentialities and guide himself down them. He could see and choose his way forward through all the infinite convergences and divergences of causality and navigate through this net. Soon he became aware of the “right” path he needed to follow because he felt it validated him. Simultaneously a sense of self returned and he focused ever more strongly on those self-validating paths. He soon found himself seated in a chair in an empty room filled with the scent of freshly extinguished candles.
Maria Laxara and the Island of Lost Souls
Maria Laxara, Mindy and Shockwave's grad assistant reported, was a phantom island that sometimes showed up on maps, located between Hawaii and North America. Without reliably corroborating sightings, it was generally believed to be nothing more than a mistake by off-course navigators. In the 1930s, rumor had it, the U.S. Navy had conducted surveys in preparation for a possible war with Japan, and confirmed the island's existence. The Navy realized the island could potentially serve as a base for Japanese attacks against the west coast and, conversely, could be used as a defensive base by the US. Rather than reporting and charting the island, the Navy deliberately kept it secret, Naval Intelligence going so far as to visit various archives around the world and remove old maps that referenced it. Eventually, it became a secret Navy seaplane and submarine base, and successive layers of dredging and construction concreted-over the original island entirely. After the war, it remained a secret facility, storing weapons stockpiles and eventually, the stories went, prisoners. In the present day it was rumored to be a sort of double-secret Guantanamo, where some prisoners alleged to have been "extraordinarily remanded" were actually being disposed of in what amounted to "the nation's oubliette".
Hearing all this, Shockwave noted that they were already, mysteriously, on a course that might take them to the phantom island. “We have to go there. It's a good thing we decided to go to Hawaii.”
Relying on sensor beam navigation, the ship moved through the night with all conventional strobes and radar shut down for a stealthy approach.
Psion came up to Mission Ops and noted the developments. Zap and Shockwave reacted, realizing that they hadn't been thinking of him recently and only now wondering where he'd been. “I've been down in the Amber Room exploring the multiverse. It's becoming a hobby of mine.”
Shockwave protested. “You weren't in the Amber Room. We were in there, and we didn't see you.”
“Ah! Were you the ones playing with the candles?”
“I blew them out.” explained Shockwave.
“See? I didn't even light them. Anyway, I think I understand what Arthur Frame is doing with the pandochle. With it, he can plan actions that put him on the path he wants to have happen. He's choosing routes through the multiverse based not on his own actions, but on those around him. He's using us and the Flaming Skull's gang to achieve an end, and it's impossible to say at this point whether his intention is good or bad.”
Zap was puzzled. “Then how did he move the ship? If he needs us to do something, how does he do that?”
“I suspect the pandochle allows him to take advantage of highly improbable outcomes to shift things around to his liking. He's pushed us from one timeline to a neighboring timeline that's almost identical and he's coming along with us.”
The bridge announced, “We have a contact off the port bow.”
Psion moved to a station and read over the operator's shoulder. “Sensors indicate a very low energy signature, though that might be a function of intentional stealthiness. The structure is largely concrete, surfaced in 30 centimeters of foamed material. It stands about twenty feet above sea level and a thousand yards across with a hexagonal shape. There are no radio emissions, and undersea cables leading away from the island indicate that is their principle means of communication.” He paused. “Captain Ramius, please bring us to a halt.”
Shockwave suggested, “Maybe we could approach the wall and just phase through.”
Psion added, “Captain Ramius, if you don't hear from us in two hours, train the ships phasers on the concrete wall in the shielded area. Disrupt that shield. We might become trapped and need an exit route.”