Wednesday, February 14, 2018

VIII: Farce Face

The next thing I remember was opening eyes some unknown time later. Firstly I saw Dr Maston, whom I recognized as a chief medic of the Resistance. I was laid down on a bed. Noticing my awareness, Maston spoke in his typically calm voice.

"Morgan? Good to see you recovering so quickly. Do not worry ― you will be just fine. We are in the resistance base. Our search squad found you a bit beaten and scarred among the cliffs near the Scarpine outpost, where you went on your mission two nights ago. We're not sure whether you lost your footing or were perhaps surprised by a Scarpine patrol. Anyhow, the important thing is, you will be back to your usual self soon."

I nodded, and he continued. "Dr Kelley told me to call for him as soon as you have regained consciousness. I will call him now. He probably wants to know about the outcome of the talks with that defecting Scarpine officer you met."

Obviously, the secret of my mission's true purpose was still kept well. And so, a couple of minutes later, Kelley indeed came and sat next to me, looking quite excited.

"Having heard you are recovering quickly is second recent good news. Let me tell you what has been going on since yesterday morning."

He looked around whether anyone was close enough to eavesdrop. Having assured himself that was not the case, he continued, "The ripple generator you have started on your mission is doing its job well, and even more importantly, we are on to something. Last night those alien ripples loitered indeed around the Scarpine's outpost, were recorded by our device which emitted the number series, and then ― incredibly ― those ripples immediately changed their behavior. They came to the device, did some kind of a more powerful ripple a few times, as if probing around it, did a few circles around it, and then disappeared after a few minutes ― probably relocating somewhere."

"So we have a basis for communication," I replied with my still somewhat raspy voice.

"Yes! I don't remember having felt so scientifically excited for years! And you can imagine how hard it is having to remain quiet about it. Not only do we have a solid indication this is indeed a form of intelligence, but also that it is probably not hostile."

The warning from the E-Man did not escape my thoughts, however. "What do you suggest as a next step, then? We should be careful, to say the least, with the powers... beings... that can deform spacetime."

"That's right. But as we both agreed two weeks ago, what is the worst that can happen? Reducing our chances in a war where they are slim anyway?"

"Therefore, Morgan, I think we should try to communicate one way or another. I am already working on a drawing we could encode in a series of pulses..."

Kelley was interrupted by Alice rushing into the room. "Dr Kelley, come quickly! Morgan, you're fine! Come along too. You won't believe what you are about to see!"

This gave me a burst of energy so I managed to stand up and follow them toward a communication console in the next room. A videostream had just been turned on and a smiling face appeared.

Dr Kelley opened his mouth in awe. "Great Scott! Is that really you? You are alive?"

I was shocked as well. It was none other than Dr Rosenbaum, my ex-boss, the lead researcher of the Blue Mega's Anomalous materials lab! The man who had designed, among other things, the famous anti-mass spectrometer. He had disappeared after the incident and everyone assumed he must have died ― together with thousands of other personnel ― in the thermonuclear explosion that wiped the Black Mega off the Earth. Even more shocking was his appearance: he seemed a bit tired, but looked exactly like how I remembered him. I couldn't help asking myself whether his contract might have as well been offered to the highest bidder?

"Well, as far as I know, I am, old pal," said the figure. "Oh, Morgan, you are there too! You haven't aged a day!"

"Where are you? Where were you all this time?" I asked.

"Judging by my antenna direction and signal strength, probably about forty to sixty kilometers north from you. I think I am not extremely safe here in this area, so let's first get me to your base, and then we can discuss all that has happened and is happening."

"That is a good idea, a squad will leave to pick you up immediately," replied Kelley. "Turn off the transmitter now for your safety, and blip your beacon once every half an hour, so that the search party can find you."



Tuesday, February 13, 2018

VII: The Encounter

Awaiting the impact, I got ― millisecond by millisecond ― more horrified about the height of my drop. There is no way for me to survive this.

But... but... surely two, three seconds had elapsed! Four? I must have crashed against the rocks by now. Darkness. Am I dead, is this being dead? Can I move? It was still dark around me, but now ― it was really pitch black. Not even a cleft at night can be so unnaturally black. And... I don't feel the air streaming around me anymore. I must be dead. I must. Yet why am I conscious? This was somehow even more terrifying than "only" dying.

And then ― from that complete silence, I heard a quiet yet distinctive clearing of throat. Suddenly I realized the answer to all these panicked questions.

"Sorry to prejudice, Dr Ferryman, but I would expect this was not a sudden suicide attempt?", said the well known slow and hissy voice, unmistakably belonging to the E-Man. "Any worthy scientist would surely prefer to know the outcome of his experiments."

I noticed him standing to the right ― as always, in his tidy suit, with a briefcase, and watching me with his striking eyes.

"Just as well we met, Dr Ferryman, because I needed to talk to you. My employers and I... appreciate your scientific endeavors. Yet, I need to emphasize that you may be risking tapping forces your current peers are not yet fully ready to understand. I was allowed, therefore, in these unusual circumstances, to connect ― or rather, reconnect ― you to an individual you can help and be helped by."

He began fading away, but still had time for one last sentence. "But making the right decision will remain your job, when the time comes, Dr Ferryman."

As usual, not only was I completely paralysed during his talk, but I also had no feeling of my body, as if only being a tiny, blurry cloud of consciousness floating through this horrible void. What was the E-Man warning me of? And why did he not just intervene himself ― as he had already shown to be capable of ― into the matter he refers to? And who was the individual he had so vaguely mentioned?

Everything went dark, my consciousness included.



Saturday, February 10, 2018

VI: Fall

Three days later, everything was ready. We decided to take advantage of darkness, and picked a night ahead of, according to our intelligence, the Scarpine's troop shifts, when they were expected to be on their guard the least.

My plan was to take about ten kilometers by an existing road using my trusty old buggy, cover the remaining two kilometers of rocky cliffs on foot, hide the backpack somewhere among many cracks, and return the same way back. Dr Kelley did his part in spreading a false rumour about Morgan secretly meeting a commander of a Scarpine squad wishing to defect to our side.

I set off in the middle of the night, aided by bleak moonlight and a pair of strong night vision goggles. Although the car was running fully on electric power, I did not want to draw any unnecessary attention by driving too fast. After all, the destination was rather close.

The old road led through a silent, vast pine forest. The conditions indeed could not have been better; I was convinced noone had noticed me. Exactly as expected, after about twenty minutes I got to a sharp curve where I was to continue on foot. Having hidden the car in the woods, I took the backpack and proceeded further north into a cliffy, inclined area densely scattered with large boulders. Far ahead I could see a dim haze where the Scarpine outpost was supposed to be.

Though I had to slow down and watch my every step on those treacherous rocks, there was not even the slightest hint of enemy interference. It was almost unreal not to have a herd of Scarpine soldiers and creatures hunting me at every step. Still, I found myself unawarely checking and re-checking all the time whether my Tau Emitter, an aging but still a brilliant weapon in every way, was securely fastened to my shoulder.

Step by step, I got to a vicinity of the Scarpine's outpost. It was perhaps twenty by thirty meters in size, on a small hill, surrounded by the Scarpine's trademark black shiny fence, and  with a couple of structures emitting white light and a quiet hum. No soldiers were to be seen anywhere, but that did not imply safety; all kinds of cameras and scanners could notice me just as well if I wasn't careful.

Proceeding further, I came to a deep cleft I needed to cross. It was just wide enough for me to jump over it comfortably, which I did, and then found myself some fifty meters from the facility. I didn't want to risk getting any closer, and instead started looking for a place to hide my cargo.

I was lucky. After only a few moments I found a small alcove hidden from plain view, and perfectly sized for my backpack. Everything had been prepared in advance; having placed the backpack inside, I just flicked a switch, checked whether a green LED blinked twice, which it obligingly did, and was ready to leave.

After a few seconds I was back at the cleft. I will probably never know what happened. Perhaps I was just overconfident, no longer having the burden of a backpack, or I took a slightly too short preparatory step, or just slid. Anyway, I started falling, trying in my last thoughts to remember how deep could the cleft be, and whether I hold any chance of surviving, let alone returning to the base.



Wednesday, February 7, 2018

V: The Message

After a long stint of violence, returning back to my role of a theoretical physicist, at least temporarily, was a refreshing change. Kelley's knowledge was superior to mine, as one would expect, but I enjoyed doing some research and progress on my own, a sort of scientific thrill I hadn't properly felt since the good old times at the Blue Mega.

It took Kelley and myself some two weeks to come up with a device that could cause similar spacetime ripples to those measured in the field. We agreed that it was yet too early to spread the information to the other scientists before we get to learn what are we actually dealing with. Fortunately, having its own troubles after the havoc previously caused at the City 7-10 and the subsequent battles, the Scarpine mostly left us alone during that period.

As we knew nothing about the possible intelligence we were attempting to contact, we agreed the best approach was a simple one: emitting ripples in bursts with durations proportional to the first 64 prime numbers ascending, followed by a couple of dimensionless natural constants in binary system. Any advanced intelligence could not fail to notice the significance of these numbers, and would hopefully reply in a similar manner, establishing at least a basic foundation for further communication. Starting the device in our base did not yield any results, but we thought it unlikely anyway.

"We will rather need to start it somewhere near the structures where those ripples appear more often," Dr Kelley told me that afternoon in the lab, opening a map on a computer before us. "That is, near the Scarpine's facilities. Take a look at this map ― as you can see, about twelve kilometers north from here, a Scarpine outpost can be found on these cliffs. We are not sure what its purpose is, but our intelligence suggests it may be related to their crystal-growing operations. It is not large, but maybe large enough to be of interest for those ripples. Before we go for the large facilities, I suggest we try this one."

It would be too much of a coincidence to expect those ripples loitering around the outpost exactly at that time, so we agreed to leave our device running hidden somewhere around the facility, sending out its signals and recording any replies, and transmitting them back to our receivers. Fortunately, we managed to fit the device and its power source into a large backpack.

"It is crucial, Morgan," said Kelley, "that this entire experiment remains known only to you and me. Therefore I fear we do not have much choice but to perform this insertion on our own."

"Which means," said I with some humour, "I will be the lucky one."

"Ha! But you understand, Morgan, that among the two of us, you are by far more competent and prepared for such things. And besides, after what you have been through so far, this should be a routine mission for you."

I was about to say that the routine missions are, in my experience, those that go awry the most, but thinking twice, I really agreed there was very little danger involved.



Monday, February 5, 2018

IV: The Initiative

"Well, Doctor, that really is bewildering," said I, even myself surprised despite all that I've been through since the Blue Mega incident. "If it was allied to either side, it would probably not need to monitor both us and the Scarpine, I'd imagine."

"Yes, Morgan, that is what led me to the conclusion that this... intelligence... is probably the third side. Possibly a neutral, observing side, but nevertheless present. And it may be the ultimate result of a post-singularity evolution: being, or beings, that have transcended the vulnerable existence in the form of lumps of ordinary particles, and now exist as these indestructible, untouchable ripples of energy, somewhere in the spacetime, perhaps spanning dimensions we know nothing about."

Having absorbed this, a possible link of these ripples to the E-Man occured to me. Have we finally discovered the first tangible piece of information leading to him and his unexplicable intentions? Anyhow, despite Dr Kelley's honesty and openness, for now I decided against telling him about my suspicions.

Even if Dr Kelley had noticed something unusual in my behavior, he was too polite to inquire, so I just said, "Assuming all this is true, and we are indeed witnessing the existence of a super-race beyond matter, what are we to do about it? What does it effectively change for us ― have you been considering that question?"

"A little bit I have indeed, Morgan ― though my intention was also to discuss the options with you. My own opinion is that we should try contacting this race one way or another, probably subtly at first. Put it this way: by doing nothing, the most likely thing to happen is a status quo with us facing, at best, a war of attrition against a huge and technologically largely superior enemy. As I said earlier, a war we, once we dismiss all the nonsense about the knightly brave warriors saving the world, have only a bleak chance of winning. We're holding a weak hand, so to speak, and forcing a reshuffle if we can do so could at least improve our chances. Even if it turns against us, we will have likely done no more than just accelerated our inevitable fall. Would you agree, Morgan? What do you think?"

This was a difficult strait to navigate; if this was indeed some agency of E-Man, how would he react by being contacted or his plans interfered with? He has always been the one who initiated the contact so far. Or had we actually discovered some effect of the Vortexites? We were aware of their ability to tamper with spacetime, at least occasionally. All these possibilities were equally scary, but somewhere deep in my mind I knew Kelley was right. And, I did tell him so, having given it some thought.



Saturday, February 3, 2018

III: On Spacetime

Dr Kelley made a brief pause and leaned against a tree.

"You know about my habit of keeping half-baked theories to myself. Although I would have liked taking some more time to work on this alone, these recent developments made me change my mind. I may suddenly perish anytime just like poor Ali did, and someone would need to continue my research."

"Now this may sound crazy, Morgan, but there are indications that this war is not... well, it does not involve just two sides. That is, the Scarpine and us along with our allies. I have gathered some evidence and one simple way to interpret it is that there is one ― at least one more side in the conflict."

The surprise must have been visible on my face, because Dr Kelley quickly went on.

"Yes! Isn't it crazy? This secret third side has not intervened yet, has not even revealed itself directly. But it is present ― possibly as an observer, or maybe looking for the right moment to join the fun. Also, I don't have any idea whether the Scarpine is aware of it."

"How do you happen to know about it, then? And only you at that?"

Looking for words, Dr Kelley sat on a small rock for a few moments before continuing.

"That's where the weird stuff begins, Morgan. I will let you take a look at the exact measurements yourself later if you want, but I'll tell you the essence now."

"Just like everyone else here, you're aware, of course, that we are eager to research as much of Scarpine's advanced technology as we can. That's why we have tried to keep plenty of clandestine sensors and various measuring devices near the hubs of Scarpine's activity, and in the battles."

"And it did help us a bit. If nothing else, we've learned the chemical composition of the Scarpine's poisons and biological weapons, of the materials they use for construction, and such things. Helpful, but nothing game-changing really."

"That is, except for the gravitational and dimensional sensors. Their noisy results, with tiny peaks not correlating with anything else, never made any sense whatsoever. Convinced something is wrong with the equipment, firstly I just discarded its results. After some checks and re-checks, it turned out that the equipment was just fine, so I started looking for some other source that may have caused these weird measurements. After a while, even those got eliminated, one by one. Finally, about two months ago, I was a bit fed up and had some spare time, so I chose to change my approach; instead of fixing these unexplicable results, I actually attempted to interpret them as such instead and see how far can I get. To my total surprise, after a few hours of analyses, these measurements began revealing patterns. Terrifying patterns."

Not waiting for me to ask the obvious question, the good Doctor went on.

"Rather often - say, in about half of all the fights against the Scarpine we have monitored, as well as around one third of the Scarpine's large facilities, bursts of spacetime ripples appear. Tiny ripples, true, far too small to be noticed without specialized equipment, but they are definitely there."

"My first impression was that we may be measuring some kind of a side-effect of Scarpine's weapons, particularly their energy sources. But I've dismissed that theory. Those ripples aren't just appearing. They... they move around and behave like an intelligent ghost-creature, a spectre curious about our business, spending some time around until the outcome of the battle becomes clear, then disappearing ― probably teleporting somewhere else ― and reappearing when something of importance happens."

"It has... at the lack of a better word, visited us even in our headquarters a few times when we had tested new equipment or discussed it. As a minute distortion of spacetime, it can, of course, travel through anything, probably at the, or close to the, speed of light. Its behavior suggests it can understand what we ― and the Scarpine ― are doing, at least on a general level. But I'd go one step further and suggest it may be some kind of a super-race we're observing, or an effect of its presence."

Auth. Sig: