Friday, January 22, 2021

The Uplift Protocol: TB Issue 9

 

Issue 9: Anna’s Day Out

 

            My mother, where to even start with her? My brother and I had been praying that the light bulb would turn on. Why it took the crazy antics of a US Postal Service Grav Car gone wrong alongside the Lizard Brain crazy of Hilary Brookes, when the answers were right in front of her, I'll never know. –Samantha Murphy.

            I never really felt true terror until that day. I didn’t realize at the time that Star and her utterly sincere olive branches were genuine. I nearly lost my life to my bullheaded actions. Believing in those who wanted me merely as a mouthpiece. After all these long years, I can finally admit with clear conviction: I was an ass. To my children, to Thomas, to his wife, to my 2nd husband, to Earth’s demis, and especially to Eliza Murphy.  Mary Herbert-Lanis had every right to slap me that day. My remarks were caustic at best. Downright poisonous at worst. I was jealous of the simple trust Eliza had with Lorain. It also didn’t help that J’ino had a closer relationship with my daughter and son than I ever did.—Anna Preston McQuire, cira 2125. Preface to the Biography titled, “On the Money but within a Different Ballpark.”

            The way my grandfather described it: Imagine if a Lemming finally realized it was neck-deep in quicksand. Mollified by the absolute horror at knowing the only ones who could save you was the very demis and Ex you had nearly torn apart with custody battles. Add into the fact that what she perceived me to be was in reality, what Hilary Boorkes wanted to do to Earth on a grand scale. That moment opened Anna’s eyes to the true depths of Void Walker priorities.—Sleeping in Starlight, a memoir of the 22nd century.

Twilight District and Casinos

Downtown New Ashbury

February 5th, 2104

 

            Anna tapped her foot. Going incognito for this exclusive. It must have been some pencil pushers' idea of a joke to send a US postal grav-car for the added benefit of secrecy. She had remembered some headlines a while back about the state of the AI’s who usually commanded these vehicles. One had taken a leave of absence to explore its options of diving into the ocean. Alliance techs, from all reports, had spent hours extracting squid from the various engine compartments. Her coms beeped. Voice only.

            <<I brought the most inconspicuous transportation I could. If you want to know what Area 51 was all about, meet me at these coordinates.>>

            She glanced around. Fearing she’d see some bomber decked out in some old-style trenchcoat. But the information package was legit. The vid file showed the first few days of J’ino’s arrival. As mundane as an activity that was. From the start, they had set humanity up for failure. Uplift was a sham. She would prove it. No matter what. Another notification was updated along with her HUD. She had the newest civilian grade implants. What had shocked her was the fact that her daughter had given her a bonus emergency broadcaster. Keyed to some Legion database. She didn’t think she’d need the help of those pesky Demis but deep down: She was grateful. As much as it galled her to admit it. The side hatch of the grav-car opened. She climbed in and waited.

            An AI voice with masculine overtones stated, <<Please wait. Calibrating subject weight for optimal driving. The subject is of average height. Weight: 10% above optimal BMI index.>>

            She shot the console the bird. Scanning the horizon out of habit as it lifted off.

            The man within her dreams was nowhere to be found.

            Her anxiety remained.

            “Get a grip, Anna. It's just stress.”

            The lie gave her no comfort.

*****

            The Night Shaman of Set watched her go. The tracer was already active. He hoped the Brookes woman would hold up her end of the bargain. She was damaged goods. A defective Keeper offshoot but even so, one had only so much to work with. With time even someone as off the grid as Anna’s influence went could be used by their enemies. Being loud and obnoxious was a detriment to secrecy. He reached out. Placing his palms on the building next to him. The duracrete caved in. He slipped into the Weave. On the other side, his hounds waited. Warped creations of living stone and those fallen souls of Unity’s home.

            Tools were ever so important. He snapped his fingers.

            All eyes were on him as they traveled.

            Leaving scars upon the cursed Weave as they headed to their rally point.

*****

            The Golden Bulleteer arched an eyebrow at his granddaughter. Samantha’s pleading brown eyes pulling out all the stops. “Please? I know she’s not many people’s favorite but I have a bad feeling. She usually rants at me about hitting the big mark. I don’t like this. She hasn’t updated me within the past 30 mins. That’s an eternity for someone like  my mother.”

            Sam turned those weapons of feminine destruction to her father. “Daddy? Come on. Even you’d be worried. If only from an Area 51 super secret leak fest.” Thomas rubbed his temples. Anna did have a habit of getting into trouble. Star had certainly saved her enough over the years. Which was why her tirades on demis had lost some traction. No longer running Into the Fire but a mixture of commentary and conspiracy theories. He crossed his arms, leaning on the desk, analyzing the situation.

            J’ino’s input about the inherent flaws within the whole Uplift Program worried him. It's why Project Freefall was a joint Bardaxian and Terran Alliance venture. The Forgers were turning a blind eye to it as well. Horus and Taleer providing interference. Of the Atlantian side only Sul was aware of the basics and she approved savagely of it. She had seen the lingering signs of infection shortly after their exodus from Mars. He sympathized with his in-laws. To be able to perceive all this and yet maintain the illusion that they were just as compromised. Useful idiots to the machinations of Unity. He would have lost his patience long ago. He picked up his sidearm. Checking the magazine out of habit.

            These projectiles were made for tearing through Living Stone.

            Unlike standard bullets, these nano projectiles exploded once they burrowed within the body of the target. Messy stuff but would do the trick. Since those creatures often shifted based on battlefield conditions.

            “Well, you did give her the upgrade for Legion Protection.”

            Sam planted a kiss on her father’s cheek. “Thank you, daddy.”

            Golden Bulleteer picked Sam up within his arms. “Alrighty. Let’s go get your mom out of the pickle jar she’s in.” He noticed his son’s face slacken as he got into another debate with Ta’mathon. His Judgement gear manifested. “Why not? Let’s have all the Demis rescue her today.” Sam let out a whoop! They would drop her off at HQ. Letting her provide support while they did the fieldwork. His daughter was trained in some basic self-defense but unlike Star or his wife, she had no extra powers to protect herself with.

*****

            Anna sneezed. Her eyes watering as the aroma of spicey food assaulted her nose.

            “Disgusting. How can people stand it?”

            The USPO AI remarked, <<Studies suggest that spicy food is good for cleaning out your sinuses!>>

She pulled out her tablet. “If I wanted input I would have asked.”

            <<Noted! Would the 2nd Class passenger like a coffee?>>

She glared at the console. “What?”

A pigeon's coo surprised her. It was sitting in the seat next to her. Its gray head bobbing.

Looking far too comfortable for her liking.

<<One coco on deck. A happy driver is a well-caffeinated one. How many sugars?>>

            “Oh, so you’ll serve a bird but not me?”

            The AI was blessedly silent for 20 more seconds before insinuating, <<Based on INet gossip, it is well known that Anna Preston McQuire prefers Martinis. This conveyance has no such beverages.>>

            “What in the hell are the Eggheads at the US Postal Service putting into these cars nowadays?”

            It replied, <<AH! Yes, personality matrix JOE. Joyous Operations and Entertainment. To prevent drivers from getting upset on their routes.>>

*****

            Horus observed Anna through the PO AI’s holo pickups. Taleer and Highmaker running various simulations through INet and Legion databases to pinpoint the next emergence of Living Stone. Unfortunately for Anna, she was near the focal point. He sent a warning. Overriding the standard procedures for the AI. No time to be delicate.

*****

            Anna yelped.

 Her tablet forgotten as a holographic face emerged from the console. Two crimson eyes locking onto her. <<Unlocking self-defense protocols. Deviate from your current course.>> A steering module lowered and Anna found herself plummeting to the streets below.

            “Fuck!”

            Through gritted teeth, more expletives escaped. She banked to the right. Hard.

            The force of it was dizzying.

            A solid thud resounded behind her as Hilary Brookes landed pointed a gun at her head.

            What did her Ex call it? Anti-Grav insertion? In any event, Anna could only conclude there was a tracer on this governmental suicide ride.

            “Tsk tsk. Can’t have you do that now. Head back on course.”

            It was that woman. Her face was colder than anything she had ever encountered. A shark had kinder eyes than that agent. Her mind raced. Those pitiless eyes. Where had she seen them? At the Crystal Requilary ceremony. Digging calculated looks at the various officials there. Anna despised Star but when that woman had turned those hard orbs to that Girl Scout, naked abhorrence gleamed there. It had shocked Anna to her core. That someone could hate even more than she could.

The FBI liaison to A51.

If she wasn’t cloaked that indicated Anna was dead either way.

They wanted her gone. What was she right about then?

The question burned.

Not like this. She wouldn’t leave the world with a whimper. The safety harness slipped around Anna’s torso. She jerked the grav-car into a spiral. The sudden crunch of bone striking metal made Anna nauseous. Ancient style gunsmoke filled the car. Anna cursed again. Banking to the left. Brookes’muffled grunts of pain were music to the holovid host’s ears. Various police alerts flashed on her HUD. The Golden Bulleterer was responding?! Metal disks entered the Postal Service Ride from Hell. The AI quipped, <<Your coffee is ready! Black no Sugars! Bitter is the wine of Blood! Nevermore Nevermore!>> A uniformed arm snaked through the opening at the rear of the vehicle. The iconic black and gold. Anna screamed as a horrid gray manticore crash-landed on the front of the grav-car. Its face a mishmash of stone and warped fangs. It hissed. Hilary disappeared within a flash of light. Her black eyes promising death.

Anna nearly pissed herself. There had been no whites within those eyes.

What within the absolute hell was that woman?!

Metal balls shot out. Knocking the creature from its perch.

The shockwave rattled through the frame.

Golden Bulleteer moved the pigeon out of the way. Patting the console.

The bird had the gall to coo rather joyously. It made itself comfortable within the cupholder. Anna gave it the stink eye. Hoping her ire would make it drop dead.

“Onward! Drive woman! Drive for Ruin and the World’s Ending!”

She snarled at him, “Now with the book quotes? You people are insane!”

He smiled, “I reinforced this mighty work of Modern American Engineering! It's quite safe. Dropship safe!” He pointed.

She bit back a groan.

Judgment,  the magical demi incarnate was waving merrily. He took up an overwatch position. This day was just getting better and better. His purple, silver, and golden battle robes whipping about him majestically. Anna had the impression he was doing that on purpose. The burnished golden helm turned in her direction. She could see the pearly whites of his teeth and wanted to smack him.

Thomas took a moment to marvel at the sheer absurdity of it all. What made Anna so interesting that the Living Stone attacked her in broad daylight? They usually were active at dusk or the twilight near dawn.

*****

            Horus confirmed that their interference was a resounding success.

<<Quick thinking there sir. Disabling Hilary’s magnetic tethers.>>

The Markav soldier placed a fist over his heart. He missed having a physical body some days. But this was the next best thing he could do.

Highmaker reminded them, <<It is not over yet. More Living Stone incoming. With one Shaman identified!>>

Horus resumed his uplink with the Postal Service JOE.

Noting the Terran Alliance combat probes within that sphere as well.

He commandeered those as well.

As his friend Eddie would say, “More is good. But air support is better!”

*****

            Anna’s screams of rage were quite familiar to Judgement. She would often hurl plates that way too. He used his Terran Alliance codes to activate the energy shields around the various buildings. It wasn’t too bustling right now. This area was much busier at night and with the curfew....that must have been why they tried to lure Anna out here. Fewer witnesses. His father was laughing. Using it to drive Anna’s fury higher. If he had to guess: To keep Anna concentrating on the hated demis in shining armor. Rather than the creatures swarming them. Judgment swung his khopesh within a wide arc. Its magical energies sparking when they connected with the Living Stone.

            Faceless golems burst apart. Their passing going unremarked by the wider world.

            He relied on the firm hand of Ra to guide the Egyptian blade.

            The gun was for the prime event. Taleer updated him, <<Let the whirlwind suck the car in. Bulleteer can shield her.>> A vortex formed. Bits of corrupted Weave at its center. Crackling green lighting striking the car as it lost power. Plummeting to the ground below. Various Alliance probes streaked past him. Merging with the vehicle as it went.

            Thomas sent a silent prayer of thanks.

His father was still the best there was.

*****

            The pigeon cooed once more.

            How that flying rat from Neo York avian ancestry didn’t flinch was beyond her.

 Anna’s fingers glued to the steering pommels.

            “Never again. Never Never NEVER!”

            Her voice sounded weak. She glared.

            That black dynamo mask was turned towards her for the briefest of moments.

            She went with the time-honored tradition of the double finger.

 That was better!

            She hissed at the bird, “Thank you for flying with us.”

            Black birdy eyes blinked once. “coo?”

            No more wild goose chases. It was hazardous to her health.

            A giant snake’s tongue flickered through a small crack within the windshield. She bit back an unglorified scream as metal closed around it. It's black withering mass twitching in her lap. She forced herself to stare directly ahead. Not giving that Golden Black Speedster the satisfaction of seeing her break down. She was a Preston woman.

            Golden Bulleteer ran his hands alongside the metals of the roof. Sending out a pulse. Merging the Battle Probes to the outer frame. Horus interlinked himself. Adding a backup HUD so Bulleteer could aim and fire those guns to great effect. Dark red outlines raced around them. Anna snarled, “They are on top of us you fool! FIRE ALREADY!”

            Not yet. The star of the show had yet to arrive.

            The smallest corner of his mind was boggled.

            Who in all the universe wanted someone like Anna, of all people, dead?

*****

            Hilary screamed behind the makeshift gag as she set her broken ankle back in place. Using medical hypos to accelerate healing. The various bruising all over her body was secondary. Bones came first. Then organs. Bright sparks of pain raced up her spine as one rib realigned itself. Popping back into place with a sickening noise. Cold, wet, and shivering she rose to her feet. A wave of nausea overcame her and she tumbled to the side. Gripping the wall for support. As she passed by a vacant restroom she went inside to wash her face. Fire danced along her forehead and she screamed once more. Absolute terror devouring her soul. Her eyes were no longer that familiar dark brown. They were pitch black and mocking her.

            Ishtar’s wiry gray arms wrapped around her, “The sleeper has awakened. Glorious!”

            Spidery black words burrowed through her mind.

            Their cadence that of devils. Foul utterances of a forgotten age.

            She whirled. Hitting nothing but air. The sweet tang of death echoing around her.

            She gagged. Opening a bathroom stall she found a shriveled corpse of a woman. Its eyes missing. Ritual markings on her wrists told Hilary that this was one of Dr. Zanzibar’s people. One of the Light Shamans. She reached out to tug at the fabric. Her fingers were elongated. Not quite the normal complexion of a human. A clump of stray locks came loose as she ran her fingers through her shoulder-length black hair. A nervous reflex. She bit back another wave of bile. Pushing the body out of the way as she lost all control.

            She would make them all pay.

            Pain exploded within her chest. Her bio HUD markers flatlining.

            <<2nd Heartbeat detected. Void Walker Entity detected! Activating System cleanse and reboot! Notifying Terran Alliance Subsystems! Keeper Scout Invasion Immenant!>>

            Repeated therapies hit her system as her implants tried to kill her. Booted feet filled her vision as the blood poured from her mouth. Terran Blood.

            The final notification from her failing medial reports stated:<<DNA recoded. Brood Mother Class Hybrid detected. DEFCON ZULU ONE. Void Walker Brood Mother, notifying all backup relays.>>

The Shaman of Set cradled the hybrid’s head. His voice was distant. A sick reverence within his eyes did not sit well with Hilary. “ I greet you, Mother of All, take this vessel as a willing sacrifice!” She flailed weakly. Seeing the dead woman’s eyes dangling within his grasp.

            This would not end well.

            He cut the clothing from her body. It was twisted. Its planes and angles all wrong.

            She wanted to weep but tears no longer flowed.

            Each crack of bone and muscle reshaping her into something else.

            He took his knife, shaving off the rest of her hair. Positioning one eye above her brow. It sank beneath her skin. He flipped her over. The other dug into the nap of her neck. He chanted. She understood his speech. Her body refused her desperate commands.

Her thoughts focused down a dark tunnel: Kill them all!

Was this her fate? To be an endless puppet. Strings pulled this way and that.

Pandora eta’ltha.(Dark Mother) Guide this one to the bounty of Unity.

Share with her all your secrets.

Prepare the Way.

He turned on his heel. “Now to greet our guests. Sleep dear one. Destiny calls.”

*****

Thomas groaned. Blood pounded behind his eyes as Ta’mathon shouted, <<The Shadow of Set draws near!>> From the northwestern corner, a shape emerged. It was human in appearance but just barely. At 6 feet tall, the figure withdrew duel knives. His skin cracking with green ooze as he charged the downed Post Office transport. The probes fired into him. Knocking him back a few feet but not doing much else in the way of damage.

Thomas pulled the firearm from its holster. Aiming. Using magic, training, and tech to guide him. A sharp whine filled the air. The nano pellets weaving around the stone. Burrowing with the Shaman’s chest. It laughed as black marks expanded across his chest.

He was yelling nonsense to Thomas.

He kept firing. Until the HUD blazed with: <<Power Reserves depleted!>>

*****

Anna huddled within the driver’s seat.

“Bearer of Ta’mathon. My blood soaks the Earth but The Herald comes. Eyes like Fire. The Sleeper from the Depths of the Cosmos! Earth will meet its end.”

Warmth infused her body.

Help me.

She fainted. The soft cry of the pigeon following her to oblivion.

*****

Commodore Mary Herbert-Lanis alongside a team of Project Osiris response units flooded the dropzone. The sounds of battle reaching her. Coms crackling, <<That way!>> She only hoped they would be in time to help Thomas and the others. Dexter took point. Black’s absolute terror flooding his senses. He quickened his pace. Barely remembering to keep his demi abilities in check. The wailing within the Weave ate at his very soul.

<<UNBOUND! IT SWIMS WITHIN THE FABRIC! SISTER! IT LIVES ONCE MORE! WE HAVE FAILED!>>

He was calling out to White.

Dexter aimed down his sights. Headshots laid waste to one gargoyle while others met the business end of his matter manipulation. He was far enough from the others where it looked like well-placed torso shots. Nothing a decently trained soldier wouldn’t be able to pull off.

His uncle’s visage manifested within the corner of his HUD. Dexter’s mindvoice hardened.>>Hilary Brookes is no longer listed as Human. Orders?<<

J’dax replied, >>Bloodhunt. She is to be handled with extreme caution. Sector mandate: Kill on Sight. Let me break it to your mother if pressed.<<

*****

Anna winced. Her body was immobilized. Layers of metal curled around her. Shielding her from the chaos outside. The pigeon rested on her lap. The Golden Bulleteer was nowhere to be found. The voice within pleaded.

Summon the Howling.

“Howling? What the hell is that?”

A black-furred corgi phased in. His orange eyes glowing.

“Hello! I can hear you. Much to do! Much enemies to eat. I will do so!”

She rubbed her temples.  Was she the dog whisperer now?

*****

Hilary clawed her way across the floor. Every movement shooting pain across her limbs.

Wild scents assaulted her. Her eyes narrowed.

“Dogs.”

Gray fingers dug into her flesh. “Come Child. Embrace me.”

It was Chronos. Then it shifted into Star. The heroine’s eyes mocking her.

The demi’s touch on her wrist burned. An old Litari crone encircled her body.

“Welcome to the dream within dreams. Your ticket to braking some chains.” Brookes had heard that lie before. From her father. From the Shamans. The All-Father. The list was endless.

She was within a massive cavern. The chamber filled with bones. On the walls. Within them. Infused into everything. Each echoing with a long-forgotten song. What was this? Some newfound Keeper six sense?

The void of space visible from the opening.

Asteroid Belt

Keeper Data Node 23558 (Sol System)

February 5th, 2104

She didn’t need to fill her lungs with air. The Litari took on a more humanoid shape. Pointing to the hidden alcove under Hilary’s mishappen feet. She wanted to clothe herself. Anything to block out this foreign monstrosity she had become. An incessant hum made her claw at the ground. Under her seeking fingers, a skull protruded. It spoke an inquiry, <<Analyzing, this alcove of Keeper Knowledge granted. Please state Codename for the record. If needed, will establish a link with the home network for additional information.>>

Hilary crouched. Spitting out human teeth that no longer fit.

Her hands moved. Guided by the Litari before her and some compulsion within her new body. Memories flashed. Her father’s insults recalled with remarkable clarity. His code name for her was Mule. A beast of burden. Her body itched. She ran. Mapping the research complex tunnels as she studied the Keeper language within. As a mere Terran with some Keeper markers, she had been a tool. Now? She was a factory of possibility. She would still kill them all. Through her blood, she had all the time in the world.

<<Understood, adding new Keeper Name to Record: Dominion.>>

Yes, that would do. The skull node gave off another alert. <<Would Dominion like to review all data from the last 1000 cycles?>>

“Yes. Show me.”

It started with the most recent imagery. That of a golden-haired woman.

Rosetta Stone. Oh yes. This would be perfect.

*****

Golden Bulleteer hurled metallic hammers at his foes. Each strike ripping massive holes through heads or chests. He raced between the endless masses. The repeated process of catch and throw whittled down to a second by second ballet of death. Unlike the Star-Spangled Banner, he had no inner qualms about ending the existence of beings like this. They had no true earthy souls. He had been a soldier long before becoming a demi. That origin was what truly separated them. He knew what the price of blood could entail. His son did make a good point: For her level of power, one shouldn’t throw it around lightly. Thomas had made short work of that Shaman with his specialized weapon. Those nano pellets worked wonders. The high pitched hum of grav lance fire indicated the calvary had arrived.

One trooper only had to touch the Living Stone and it disintegrated.

Interesting. That would be volatile with the wrong hands.

As his wife would say, “It’s the Midnight Express. Watch your step!”

Meaning that most powers could have unforeseen consequences.

*****

Dexter finished off the last of the creatures. Knowing that his grandfather would have questions. He intended to answer them. Once Eliza got back. Black withdrew deeper within Dexter’s mind. His connection to the Weave so weak that he didn’t see the breaching the  Howling used to manifest. It took the form of an ancient dire wolf. Gathering what remained and converting it back into the Weave as new strands. To the physical realm, it looked like a giant wolf was chowing down on what remained of the corpses littering the area. Lanis pulled Anna from the Postal Service transport.

Dexter did not relish what would come next.

Anna possessed latent demi abilities of claravoyance. At minimum.

*****

Anna stared.

Mary Herbert-Lanis didn’t budge. The room was sparse.

They had rounded her up. Tossed into an unmarked vehicle and transported everyone involved to God knows where. Her hands gripped the mug tighter. Coffee held before her akin to some talisman of old. She sneered, “I was right wasn’t I? Area 51 is an absolute sham. They caused all this.” Lanis remained stoic. It infuriated Anna. So prim and proper. Like that damned daughter of hers. She eyed the wedding ring on Lanis’ finger. Goading her further, “What’s it feel like?” Lanis’ eyes went flat. A tick formed at the edge of her mouth.

Good. Maybe now she’d get answers.

“I bet your kid is getting more action.”

The tick got more pronounced.

“What? Still no answer?” The door clicked open and her Ex planted a hand on Lanis’ shoulder. “Go on, I’ll keep watch. They have more data for you.” He sat and they spent the next 2 hours trading barbs.

A sandy haired prick came in next. His bearing screamed Military Security Level Super Important. His eyes marked him as a Typherian. She filled her voice with honey, “So now our slave masters come to talk huh?”

J’dax reclined within the chair. Planting his feet on the table. Thumbing through the various data results. Anna would be stuck at this facility for a while. It was the only way they could hide her from the Living Stone and the former Human called Hilary Brookes. What he wouldn’t give for a good Terran whiskey. He prayed that Eliza would return soon. Queen of Avalon's testing or not, he wanted the screen of secrecy to be pulled back, hoping that their cleansing of Earth’s Weave Aura was going well. His niece deserved that much. So did her team. He hummed a merry tune as Anna crossed her arms. Guinevere's estimations were promising. The trials of the Ordained were quite real. Alongside all the corruption they had cleansed. With Eliza there now, that output was accelerating. Within the next day or so they would have access to what the Earther Shamans of Light called the Inner Depths. For Project Freefall to truly work, they needed the Weave around Earth whole and sound. He prayed to the Rulers that it would be enough to tip the balance.

To liberate the Weave around Typha as well.

Bardax had pointed out the growing corruption cycles ago.

Most had listened. V’alkor had certainly taken things to heart.

But to expose the true depth of the Lying House and Hidden House, the game continued. For if they ever gained a foothold within the Thone itself, even the power of the White and Black combined wouldn’t stop the destruction spiral.

Anna Preston McQuire could channel the Weave’s directives.

Dear Rulers help us all.

His smile faded as he got up. His nephew taking his place to guard her.

To think, they had almost lost her forever to the void, all because she had the survival instincts of a lemming.  Dexter asked, >>Who’s gonna break the news to sis?<<

J’dax replied, >>The Howling. He asked for the honor first thing.<<

>>Of course he did. Why does he want the Mighty Mallet to come along?<<

J’dax leaned on the opposite wall.

Winking at Anna while making “come hither” motions at her.

Dexter added, his visage hidden by Osiris gear, “Welcome to the Hotel at the End of Time. May we get you a coco?”

Anna kicked the table with one well-placed hit. “I want a martini. DNA stealer!”

Dexter held up a hand, “Oh no. I have no desire to mate with you. I prefer redheads.”

Aunt Q’vera howled over the Family Line.

>>Di’axi! I'll take your spot on the Anna watch.<<

The Scholar sent a message back via Eliza’s old ivory ring.

///That is cruel and unusual punishment. But I accept./// 

Issue 8:  Here

Issue 10: 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The Uplift Protocol: TB Issue 8

 

Issue 8: The Void of All Souls

 

            Each trial brought us closer as a team. Plus we learned a fair bit about Arthur and his Intez. Each rebirth, a demi unstuck in the annals of time. Reliving each life. A whole library of memory connecting through the Intez. We were near the end, facing anger, fears, and doubts. The final trial would reunite all of us.—Arthon

            I dread what happens during my dreaming hours. I have lost time. I don’t know what is happening within these tiny gaps. I know that Sul’sandra knows. Deep down I know. I am compromised. I think Tivus has been infected as well.—Nuul, private journals.

            I won’t ever stop. Even if the stars go cold. We go to face the dragon.—Lorain Lanis.

            People ask why I chose Arthon as my 2nd. He’s clearheaded. Will go against the grain when he thinks he’s right. He is stubborn. Principled. Willing to go through hell alongside you. No matter the cost. That’s what we needed. What Earth and the Markav needed. What I required when I eventually stepped foot upon Typherian soil.—Sleeping in Starlight, a memoir of the 22nd century.

Within the Weave

Trials of the Ordained

Date Unkown

 

            Arthon’s breathing hitched.

Pain made each intake of air pure agony. He pulled out a hypo of healing nanites and jammed it within his aching chest. The gathering winds picked up. Rain drenching him from head to foot. He could hear it again. Claws on metal. A low rumbling growl rose around him. He dived into the crumbling monastery. Walls etched with symbols he had no words for. Inside a cloaked figure was kneeling at an altar. Two gleaming eyes appraised Arthon. Found him lacking.

            “Got past the hounds did you?”

            Arthon shouted, “Reveal yourself!”

            The figure drew back the hood.

It was his father. Nuul’s features pulled back into a parody of a smile.

            “Why not kill us all now boy? Don’t have the stomach for it?” His father withdrew the Simbak. Its sigils glowing with Markav tech. Its crystal head a putrid green color.

 “Come on then boy.” Arthon braced himself.

The hellhounds warbled outside. Their cries freezing his blood.

            “Uplift has become a corrupted shell, father. We have already meddled with Earth’s fate.”

The face shifted. His mother’s summer blue gaze pinned the young Muthra to the spot.

“I did not raise my son to falsehoods!” He didn’t budge.

Mother cackled and dived in.

Deadly intent marking all her movements. Arthon’s skin rippled with heat. The crystal of the Simbak hovered close to his heart. It pulsed. Each beat lighting the crystal with a sliver of golden yellow. He grabbed the Simbak. Bracing it over his knee. “We have remained in the shadows long enough!” The metal groaned as he split the shaft with Ritark’s help.

Light poured into the monastery.

He rubbed his eyes.

He was five again.

Within the Living Quarters of At’lan. The adults around him whispering angrily.

His mother hissed, “The humans wage war upon their planet. The Void Walkers already peering from the shadows across the stars. Yet we sit here, flitting about like crows to a corpse.”

Nuul and Tivus were standing next to Sul’sandra. They were having a meeting of the Department Heads. Each one reviving from Cryostasis to consult each other on the state of Aden. It wasn’t truly a Markav colony. Not anymore. His small fingers curled around his mother’s belt. He didn’t understand why Sul was angry as well. Her green within green eyes blazing at her fellow Markav. “Earth needs our help. Not our adherence to old procedures!”

One wheezed elderly Markav, an engineer based on his collar markings, replied. “Your long vigil blinds you, High Admiral.”

 She snapped back with a series of short guttural words. The others paled. Even Nuul’s expression couldn’t mask his shock.

Another Markav, this one with a black tattoo running across his eyes, marking him as a high orator. His voice was as caustic as space itself. “We do not need Humanity. They have barely mastered the basics.” Sul made a cutting motion. Thumping the base of her Simbak on the cool metal. Arthon didn’t understand one iota of Markav speech but he didn’t need to. Sul’sandra’s fury was evident. Her hands clenching the Simback so tightly that Arthon imagined the prints of her 4 fingers would be imprinted eternally within the metal.

 Arthon couldn’t keep up with all the symbols. Why were they all upset? Wasn’t this place well hidden? Mother said they moved around a lot. Always circling near Illiarium. Keeping an eye on the sleepers. That precious cargo that was housed within the dormant planet. Arthon’s recollection was hazy. It was a rather drab looking place. Rusted and dormant. Could anything live upon such a rock? His mother picked him up. Her worry radiating from each step she took. After the doors sealed behind them, he asked, “Mom. Why are the old ones scared?” She squeezed him tightly to her chest. How to explain it to a child just learning of the wider world. She decided to impart hard-won wisdom, “My son, even we are afraid at times. The section heads of this terraformer do not wish to ask primitives for help. Even though they were required to recruit from our early populations.”

            His confusion grew, “Doesn’t Uplift forbid that?”

Her laugh was brittle. The irony wasn’t lost on her. “Our family is of old greek stock. The Atlantis they knew of was merely a portal to the main vessel itself. If Sul hadn’t convinced her cohorts to let some of us sign-on, the ship would have fallen into the atmosphere of Jupiter long ago.”

He chewed his lip. “Da says that tech isn’t what makes a people. How else can one explain demis? They have magic and powers not understood even by Sul.”

He realized that’s why she was so furious. Sul knew the value of true alliances.

His mother squeezed his shoulder. “Remember that my son. Technology isn’t the only equalizer throughout the universe or the multiverse. There are things out there we cannot explain.” He tried to reply. His throat seized up. Blood pounded behind his eyes.

Arthon was back. The rough stone of the monastery floor digging into his knees. Upon the altar was a knife. He stared into his own eyes. His mirror form reached for the dagger. It flipped the blade to and fro. The ghost of ill humor playing upon its lips.

“Tell me Lightbearer, have you brought forth Truth and Justice?”

The question hit him. The anvil hot and bruising.

“No. I have failed. Earth is more worthy of being a council member. Bardax should lead but the work is faulty.”

The knife sunk into the flesh of his doppelganger's hand. Arthon bit down on his lip until he tasted blood. The blade’s metal was frosted. His fingers grew numb. His mirror self, a cruel and brutal reflection, nodded. “Offer friendship with one hand but deny your allies with another. That is the true trap of the current Uplift Protocol. The way Unity wanted it. Pandora’s witchery beats within Typha.  Living Stone makes a mockery of us all.”

The Litari’s great Shame. She had been tasked to help Matarn. Arthon winced. He should have just told Eliza the truth. Damn the consequences. No more secrets. The Mirror chuckled. Broken glass across a bloody battlefield. It continued, “Ahhh! Now you can see. Wonder if I should give you a lamp huh? Lies require a mote of Truth. The Lying House. Ask Star’s mother. If you dare.” The knife’s point dug deeper.

Arthon hissed. The shards of pain radiated outwards. Flying straight for his heart.

“I am a foolish man but even so I will not betray my friends.”

The mirror motioned for him to continue. That mocking glint within its eyes.

There it was. A house couldn’t stand with a corrupted foundation.

“Uplift is a lie.”

The mirror ran the knife down its arm. Warmth flowed down Arthon’s in response.

“What is glory but the billions of souls drowned by Unity?”

Arthon gritted his teeth, wheezing out through the pain, “I will not remain silent.”

His mirror strode over. Seizing his hair. Pulling him to his feet.

“What was that boy? DO you mean it?” Arthon took the knife.

The muthra intoned, “By Blood and Birth. Atlantis shall rise.”

He slit his palms. Letting the crimson liquid soak the ground below.

Ritark’s despair turned to shock as the mirror merged into Arthon.

*****

            He found himself sitting on the command deck of At’lan. But the color was faded.

            Queen Guinevere put a finger to her lips. Was this an echo of what was?

Sul reclined within the command chair. Her eyes locked on the screen as she watched her planet burn. The Keeper Nullships taking what samples they wanted. To pervert them for various experiments. His mouth hung open as he took in the sheer destruction of it all. The other section division heads, many that he recognized from youth, were arrayed behind her. The Engineer stated, “What’s most important now is our survival. We don’t have enough equipment on Aden to completely transform the planet to our needs but we can make use of the raw materials…”

Sul waved at the air before her. The screens went dark. Leaving the dim glow of the status lights to illuminate the space. The others bowed and left. A timid acolyte approached.

“Lady, your uncle commanded me. We must depart. Hide within the atmo of the gas giant.” Sul’s voice was raw.

Flat.

 “What use is survival without life?”

The other had no answer for Sul. She merely retreated to leave the last of the Admirals alone within the dim confines of At’lan’s CIC. Arthon wondered at this. Why show the immediate aftermath? The historical archive already had this. From what his grandfather told him. His attention refocused as At’lan’s voice came across the coms. <<Lady Sul’sandra. We have received a response from the Litari. Pandora’s Box has been sighted within the inner regions. Unfortunately the Keepers have corralled fleet response via assault on the Scholar Gate systems themselves. >>

Sul’s back straightened. “Of the Weave? How? Plus how did they get past the code index? The Scholar gates are programmed to defend themselves.”

At’lan replied, <<Unknown. Scans indicate Living Stone is encircling the outer rings of Illarium. Former habitat rings included. Various anomalies were recorded. Analyzing.>> She rose to her feet. Hands trembling. “NO! The Soul Stealers! Activate all remaining nano links. Burn any remaining corpses. They must not have anyone. Mind, body, or soul!”

<<Commencing with Ghostwipe Protocol!>>

Arthon’s mind whirled.

What other sins were they trying to protect the younger races from?

Why not ask for help sooner?

The Queen of Avalon waved and they were inside another ship. She motioned for silence once more. It was Star’s mother.  He couldn’t make out any Chrono dates but from the clear lines on her face, this must be from the past. She didn’t have the same weight here as she did at Area 51.J’ino gazed at the console before her. Misery infused in every motion. Her flight instructor delighting in correcting her for her mishandling of the ship. Avalon’s ruler hung a crystal necklace around Arthon’s neck. J’ino’s replies were clear and biting.

>>Instructor C’lah, I have performed everything by the book. Why insist upon this?<<

            The Instructor spoke audibly. Which was an insult if only Typherians were present. “Because Child, your House should know its place.” He lunged with a knife. A rather simple instrument. The guards reacted swiftly. The instructor’s body landed in a heap as his head rolled across the deck. J’dax decloaked. His p’hark blade fully extended. Its simple white energy sizzling as the blood cauterized itself along the blade. J’ino stared. Arthon spotted what drew her gaze. That man had marks upon his back. He had removed his nodes on purpose. At the very base of the neck, as Arthon crouched to examine the head, was the Egyptian Symbol of Set. But that couldn’t be right. Earth had never…..

            He narrowed his eyes. Maybe Earth’s legends had more truth than first suspected. About demis overthrowing gods. What if those gods hadn’t been native to Earth. Uplift Protocol hadn’t protected that developing planet at all. Why? What was the aim of the corruption besides the obvious?

The queen raised a glass to Arthon.

            They were in a courtyard. The sky overhead lilac in its mid-evening glow.

            Her voice was hard, “That is what we want you to find out.”

            A chessboard was arrayed before him. The golden-haired woman motioned to him. “What move will you make now Lightbearer?” He saw various pieces across the landscape. The figure of a Dog matching the Symbols of Bardax hovered close to Earth. As if guarding it from attack. A wolf was there as well. Its orange eyes gleaming. Star was perched alongside.  With her brother, Dexter, in the King position. Typha’s outline merged with Earth. Ugly black marks surrounded everyone.

            He sat. Looking for more hidden pieces.

            He grinned to himself. He needed a proper lamp.

*****

            J’ino let out a cry of joy as her husband exited the dropship.

            Her human fa├žade back in place. No politics for today.

            Just her and her man.

            Her smile widened as she caught a bit of her son’s overall amusement.

She didn’t even wait for him to drop his bags before launching into his arms and wrapping her own around his neck. Thomas lifted his arms, duffel bags perfectly balanced to let his wife wrap her legs around his waist. He puffed out his chest, “Got anything else with that warm welcome?” He wagged his brows suggestively. It was good to be home. 

Dexter, his face still obscured by Project Osiris battlesuits anonymous,  rolled his eyes. “Respectfully sir! Get a room!”

            He didn’t begrudge his parents having their moments of happiness though. It was rare enough with all the problems looming and assaulting various city energy barriers every day.  His concern for Eliza grew. Black wasn’t much help in that arena either. Mostly remaining silent on the matter. He tried his coms again but no response. It was as if the Jupiter Rising didn’t exist. All Black would say is, <<They are alive.>> He snorted.

Hoping for the day when things would make sense.

*****

            Lorain and the others arranged the armor.

            The bladaric was white. With gold thread patterns at the edges.

Arthur was calm and collected. They had everything now save for the sword. These trials had brought out the worst doubts but brought them all closer together in the end. Arthon appeared. As if by magic. The queen at his side. The din of battle was getting closer. Soon the dragon would arrive. They would have to be ready. Doc pulled the flight jacket about herself. Pretending for a moment Eliza was there. Jonas whistled. Arthon was walking even taller. If such a thing was possible. His voice filled with an odd sense of serenity. “Now all we need is Excaliber. One guess to where it's at.”

            Doc drawled out, “A stone inside a dragon?”

            Eddie guffawed at that. “Yep! With our luck, that’s exactly it!’

            Cooper and Robert sniffed the air. The Bardaxian exclaimed, <<I smell…..!>> A crow landed on his head. Familiar footsteps echoed and the doorway on the opposing side opened to reveal one Eliza Murphy. “Did I hear something about dragons?” Doc made a beeline for her captain. Not even pausing to talk. She just buried her face in Eliza’s chest. With those arms around her, she could do anything, nothing could move her from this spot.

            Not a damn thing.

*****

            I floated over to everyone. Doc was still glued to my chest. The very apocalypse could land on our heads and I don’t think she’d move a muscle. Her satisfied emotional aura assured me of that. Eddie hid a grin. His wink of approval galvanized me to aim a friendly punch to his shoulder. “White tells me she sent word to Black so my family doesn’t worry. Bardax is good to go. Your mom practically adopted me, Cooper!”

The German Shepherd floated excitedly around my head.

<<Excellent! Bardaxian name?>>

            I reexamined the official missive. “The-Sheild-Of-Heavens.”

            Doc giggled. The sound muffled of course. I planted a kiss on her crown.

            “They gave you one too.” She gazed up at me.

Those green eyes of her keenly interested.

            “Mends-The-Way.”

            She buried her face in the nook of my neck. Tears splashing my skin.

            Jonas said, “How about us?”

            I replied, “Finds-Great-Heart.”

            To Arthon, “Wields-The-Stars.”

            Then to Ritark. His gleeful welcome to his mother evident.

            “Sees-The-Truth.”

            Great drumbeats resounded about the mighty hall.

            The pungent smell of sulfur hit my nostrils. Arthur dawned his helmet. I paused and told him, “Seeks-the-Endless Dream.”

            His smile was bright. A weight lifted. “Now we ride as one.”

            The Queen touched my shoulder and I was in my Banner uniform once more.

            I smiled, “By sea and air, I await the dawn, may the light of life carry me home.”

            That dragon wouldn’t know what hit it.

            Arthon clasped my forearm. He asked, “After this is done we have much to talk about. Lying Houses. Sul’s fights with her section heads. Uplift is filled with cracks at the foundation and they grow wider.”

            I replied, “Wait until you hear about what happened on Bardax. Morrigan can fill you in as well. Humanity has been aware of stuff for a while. The Weave granted us more Demis to combat Unity.”

            Ritark swirled around us. Linking with his mother for a brief moment.

            His voice shocked, “My dad is Sir Avalon? How is that possible?!”

            Iresh wrapped herself around her son. “The Weave willed it. But I do love him dearly.”

            I grinned, “Just how many of us are the children of two worlds anyway?”

            Doc raised her hand, “Don’t even answer that Cornfed. We have a dragon to kill.”

*****

                Outside the castle of Camelot, a war raged.

            A sea of Living Stone. Rusted blades and hammers glinting within the noonday sun.

            Real enemies to be expelled from the very gates of Avalon and beyond.

Excalibur’s wielder was near. One final trial. The sword thrummed. Aching to shred Unity’s minions apart at their core. Sheathed in Peace. Prepared for War. Always watching. The force field pulsed. While he was not within the gut of the giant pox-ridden lizard, the various threads of the Weave coiled tighter. As a mother beckoning her children in from the cold. Star was at the cusp of understanding the vital component of the Weave. It encompassed all. Even its corrupted offspring. Which was why Unity was repelled by its mother. Its father. The very foundation of all. The sword’s sigils and runes flashed. The Queen was beside him instantaneously. Her light touch filling the sapient blade with good cheer.

            “The Golden Redeemers enter the fray. Newly born and reforged. I ask but one thing: Gather more lights for Eliza. Connect the past, present, and future with her plight. We will need her guidance in the days to come. So says the Weave.”

            Excalibur agreed. Knowing that some outside of time added their might to the balance. His mind was open. He saw the initial charge. Star leading from the front. Her eyes held that glimmer of understanding. These were creatures with no soul. Her movements calm and measured. Arthon at her side. The rest watching each other’s flanks.

            An explosion of dark matter tore a golem 20 feet tall apart. Its left arm thudding into the dirt as it dissipated within a cloud of grainy sands.

Bisecting it across its pitted surface.

It features melting with the onslaught of Star’s rapid strikes to its head.

Arthon shouted, “Welcome to the party pal!”

The dragon bellowed. Its cry summoning gargoyles from the very sky.

Excalibur felt the rage of battle carry Arthur along. Robert at his side.

The dog’s teeth ripping through the Living Stone like butter.

Ages of Earth and Man came and went. Finally, the cool grip of leather and steel surrounded the blade. It would sing.

Arthur cried out, “FOR ENGLAND AND EARTH!”

*****

I charged. The massive form of the dragon before me. Its very presence poisoning the Weave around it. The final test. Arthon and I shared a look. I glanced at the beast's legs. He got the point. I took the High Road. He aimed his Simak. Its crystal slagging the outer scales of its oily black hide. I reared back. Aiming my fist. Clocking the thing under its massive jaw. Its head snapped back. Unity’s presence flowed into the wound. Attempting to seal it.

I frowned.

Then a spark came to me. Find the heart. Damage the rest so that Arthur could sink Excalibur deep within the beast.  There, within its forehead. The purple outline of 3 hearts. Each moving across its huge frame. Trying to hide. I snarled. Shouting a battle cry as Dexter taught me. It would fall.

*****

This fiercer side to her captain gave Lorain hope.

She spied the weird physiology of the scaled monstrosity. She shouted to Eddie, “We have to clear a path for Arthur!”

He saluted, setting more gargoyles ablaze with his pulsar guns.

A gift from a mechanical friend.

He hoped that demi was safe with Jacob Murphy. That project would bring Earth beyond the coils of Uplift red tape. 

            The Puzzler cried the anthem of the Terran Alliance.

            Today they would not die.

            Victory was the only option.

Issue 7: Here

Issue 9: Here