Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Know Circuit - Chapter 18.0

November 7, 2028
Time Unknown

“Gone? Just gone?” Bridge had listened as patiently as he could to Balfour’s story, but the finality of an empty city, the sheer bleakness of having come all this way only to find Aristotle’s grandmother vanished crushed him with fatigue. He slumped further into his chair. “And you eggheads don’t have clue one where all these people went?”

“No, Mr. Bridge. We scoured the whole city in all directions. We didn’t find one corpse, not one molecule, nothing to show that any of the residents within the dome survived. These ghosts which you’ve already seen are the only evidence they ever existed. Most of the ghosts don’t even seem to know we’re here. They come at random times but never for very long.”

Janicki offered a theory with cool detachment. “I’ve considered the possibility that the cloud generator experienced a power surge. This surge might have disintegrated all non-plant organic matter underneath its area of effect. Plant life is unaffected but humans, pets… all gone.”

“And you guys,” Bridge replied.

“If we accept Dr. Janicki’s surge hypothesis, we can deduce that our mana engines rendered us immune to the effects,” Lydia explained.

“That is a logical deduction. After all, we can juggle fireballs and lightning without getting singed. The engine seems to lend us a remarkable resistance to electricity, heat, perhaps even other forms of more harmful radiation.”

Bridge scoffed. “Rolfsberg didn’t seem too immune to heat.”

Balfour peered down his nose at Bridge distastefully. “No need to be petulant. We’re still exploring the rules of our upgraded conditions.”

“Great. I’m dealing with wizards who don’t even know the extent of their magic. Five idiot savant Merlins.”

“Wizards? Magic? You sound like Carl with his dragon illusions. We aren’t magicians. There’s no such thing as magic. We’re scientists. All of our abilities can be explained by a more thorough understanding of the mana engine, something we’ve been trying to accomplish while we waited for you. Dr. Wong has been experimenting with his sports simulation. Dr. Carlisle has been examining the startling variety of dense particle combinations the engine can facilitate. Dr. Janicki and I have been attempting to better understand the cloud generator, and we think we can shut it down, though the results will be rather explosive.”

“Science, magic, same thing to a caveman.”

“There is another possibility.” The voice startled everyone. Wong had appeared in the doorway. His eyes were red and puffy, and he walked with his shoulders slumped as if they bore the weight of the world.

“Quon!” Lydia shouted and ran over to him. “Are you all right?” She clutched his face lovingly with both hands. He pulled her hands down softly, nodding his head. Though calm as a still sea, his expression betrayed a tumultuous spirit.

“You have a theory, Dr. Wong?” Balfour asked.

“The engines and the generators work off the principle of firing particles cross-dimensionally, right? What if the particular combination of particles we fired into the generator created a reaction that opened that dimensional tunnel too wide? The energies unleashed could have shifted the dimensional frequency of the organic material in the area of effect, except for those of us with mana engines whose bodies were already attuned to the engine’s dimensional energies. We’re anchored at the same frequency as the cloud generator, but those who weren’t at the time are constantly shifting back and forth across the dimensional barrier. When the ghosts appear, it’s just the echo of their consciousness coming close to the same phase as the cloud but never quite syncing up.”

Bridge tried to follow the Chinese scientist as best he could. “So you’re saying the people here could be saved? You could sync them back up with this cloud thingie?”

Wong stared at him with a puzzled expression. “Save them? Do you have any concept of how difficult it would be to try to guess the particular dimensional frequency of just one person and then sync that person in with the rest of us?” He laughed a hollow, soulless chuckle. “No, I guess you don’t. It would be like trying to catch one specific water molecule with a net the size of the Milky Way while that water is traveling at the speed of light. And even if we could reconstitute whatever energy state their consciousness is trapped in, their organic matter has likely been converted to that energy.”

“I’m sorry to say those people are gone, Mr. Bridge.” Balfour spoke with such detached certain finality that Bridge’s stomach burned.

It all began to swirl in his mind. Fatigue and despair weighed on him so heavy it felt as if a fully-loaded truck sat on his chest, restricting his breathing. They’re all dead. Or stuck between dimensions, whatever that meant. It was probably worse than being dead. Aristotle’s grandmother, the Naturalist recruiters, they were all gone, for all intents and purposes dead.
Despite all the talking and effort and wheeling and dealing Bridge had done to get to this point, to get to Boulder to perform some miraculous rescue, he hadn’t really cared. He hadn’t come to save Aristotle’s grandmother, no matter how much he had told his bodyguard. Bridge had always known that deep down. It was why he would never make Aristotle a promise. Not because he logically knew that the chances of her survival or of Bridge being able to do anything to find her were so remote as to be impossible, but because he hadn’t come here to help. He was here because he was angry. He was here because somehow these geeks had gotten into his head and compelled him to come here, had forced these choices on him. He was here because he was pissed off at being jerked around.

His anger, his fatigue, his sense of failure, and deep down his own self-loathing finally exploded. “GODDAMNIT!” Bridge snapped, lifting the desk next to him and tossing it aside. Papers and books flew everywhere. A console screen exploded in a shower of sparks. “I came here because my bodyguard’s grandmother lives around here somewhere… lived. And you fuckers are telling me that she's dead, just like that? She’s just dead?”

“No, Mr. Bridge, you’re here because we called you here,” Balfour stated without emotion. “We are fully aware of what our experiments have wrought. The Legios Corporation and the US government will find every excuse to blame the deaths of these people directly on us. And before they are done with us, Chronosoft and any other corporation that funded our research will claim ownership of every bit of it. They will bury us in a deep dark hole and they will steal everything we created. They will turn all of it into another means of exploitation, or another weapon.”

“You sound like my buddy Stonewall,” Bridge chuckled wryly.

Lydia elaborated. “We talked it over before we activated the cloud generator, Bridge. Whether the experiment had succeeded or failed, we were going to need someone to represent us, someone who could help us negotiate, or help us hide if the corporations went after us. We would need someone like you. Dr. Balfour’s friend Freeman said you were the man we needed.”

“Once we realized what we’d done,” Janicki took up the story, “we knew we had to have you here quickly. But the cloud was interfering with all forms of communication in or out. So we sent Carl outside the dome and sealed it, making sure only he could open it from that side. He was to send the message and wait for you to come.”

“He got a little overzealous,” Bridge responded. “Not only did he get me, he’s hypnotized every jack head from five states over to flock here like you were handing out free Trip. And he attacked a National Guard post, which has probably caused fifteen kinds of holy hell out there.”

“We think they might have attacked him. This is his last message.” Balfour gestured and Carl’s distorted voice filled the room. Though Bridge could see no speakers in the room, it filled his ears as well as any sound system could.

He recognized the nasally, artificially augmented tones of the dragon Carl. “They’re everywhere! Tanks and soldiers. I’m hit bad. I don’t think I’m going to make it. I can’t believe it. I didn’t think it was possible. They’ve killed a technomancer.” The message ended with a booming explosion and a burst of static.

“Until you got here, we assumed that meant he was dead. Now that we know he might still be alive out there, we need to find him. We need to disappear, to destroy any trace of our work and set ourselves up somewhere else with new identities and new facilities. We need you to get us out of here.”

“What’s the plan then?”

“We don’t have a plan, Mr. Bridge. That’s why you’re here.”

Go to Chapter 18.33

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