Author Topic: Chapter 5  (Read 7910 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 5
« on: June 10, 2022, 01:02:38 AM »
Chapter 5

When Petra woke, she was in yet another strange room. This one was much more modern, except for the lighting. A single gas lamp flickered at her from next to the door, illuminating the white walls. The room was square, about five meters on a side, and utterly empty except for the cot she was lying on.

Anxiously, she got up. At least her headache was gone, and she wasn't trembling anymore. So far so good. When she tried to gauge her breathing though.. she realized she wasn't breathing at all!

Hastily, Petra put two fingers to her neck. She didn't have a pulse either! After a moment she willed herself to breathe, and took in a long, ragged sequence of air. Then, torn between horror and wonder, she held it. She had no watch, and there was no clock in here, but she could tell the passage of time. The lamp continued to flicker as she kept going, feeling no pressure at all to exhale!

"What have I gotten myself into?" She asked herself, finally letting out a breath. At least she could still speak. Apparently the urge to inhale before speaking was still inside her.

That brought up another question, and she looked down at her arms. From the outside, she didn't look any different. She had no pulse, but she could still see veins in her hand. Her hand was still warm to the touch. The blood was still there, but it wasn't flowing. What the hell had they done to her??

This door wasn't locked either. She opened it slowly, and saw a long hallway to her left with other doors on it. There was a man sitting on a chair in the hallway, looking across at her curiously. She recognized him from Didi's photos.

"Morning," he said with a smile, getting up from his chair and putting his book down on it. It looked like an old copy of Don Quixote. She could also see a flashlight on the ground next to the chair. "You're Petra, right? I'm-"

"Nick. Yeah, I know." Petra cut him off, glancing both ways down the hall. It looked like she was on the outside of a large square shape of rooms much like hers. From their organization, they could have been anything from a barracks to a monastery to a prison complex. Strangely, more lamps had been hung on the walls. There wasn't a fluorescent light to be seen.

He chuckled a bit at that. "I forgot you know more about us than most people. How are you feeling?"

He wasn't armed, and he didn't look particularly threatening, but Petra was still having a hard time feeling secure here. "I'm pretty weirded out, actually. What the hell happened to me? And where am I now, anyway?"

Nick nodded slowly. "Right. I'll try to explain."

"Mr. Kasunis? Mr. Kasunis!" The voice was coming from the right, behind the door, and Nick let out a noise of exasperation. Petra opened the door further and could see a shorter man, somewhat overweight and anxious, trotting towards them.

"There you are." He stopped, took a few deep breaths, and then glanced at Petra curiously for a moment. "I was looking over the schedule Andy left, and the REMP restart sequence hasn't been penciled in yet! If we leave it off for too long, it'll need a full recalibration, and that's at least two more hours we're defenseless! She said I should do a maintenance check on it while it's down, but I don't know the protocols for that, and I'm afraid I'll damage it if I try! Aside from Andy, you're the only other person who's done a maintenance check, so I figured she wouldn't mind if I-"

"Doug!" Nick said loudly, finally getting a word into the man's nervous monologue. "Doug, we've been over this. I left you in charge of REMP control for a reason. Firstly because I feel you've earned a little more responsibility, and secondly so that I wouldn't have to do it! You don't have to bother me or Andy with the little details. There's a full set of manuals in the server room. Go there, read up on what you need to do, and take care of it. Now." He made a shooing gesture at Doug, who nodded obsequiously, and backed away while apologizing.

Despite her situation, Petra found this amusing. She'd never been in charge of any employees at her job, but she'd heard similar conversations between her coworkers.

Nick closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Sorry about that. How about we talk in there?" He gestured at the room, grabbing his chair and book from the hallway. "Maybe if he comes back he won't know I'm still here."

Once they were situated inside he asked if she wanted the door closed, but Petra shook her head. "All right. Darius said you spoke with him and Morty. Did he explain how Morty is not human?"

"Barely," Petra said, thinking back on the conversation. She hadn't been that lucid for most of it. At least she could think straight now.

"Well we're still trying to figure out exactly what Morty is, but as far as we can tell, he's an energy-based life form. He has control of a kind of temporal power that's native to his dimension. A long time ago he transferred some of his own energy into Darius, which is why he's been around for so long. Your injury was caused by a fade, and it couldn't be treated by anything we've got, but it could be put on hold. Morty transferred some of that energy from Darius into you, which stopped the degradation."

Petra tried to wrap her brain around all of that. "So I'm not actually dead?"

"No, but you're not really alive either. You're just sort of.. stopped. Your body has been separated from the normal flow of space-time, just like Darius," Nick said, looking sympathetic.

Images of poorly-written horror movies came to mind, and the idea of being some kind of zombie neither dead nor alive wasn't exactly appealing. "How long will this, uh, temporal thing last? On me, I mean."

"From what Darius told me, three or four months," he said, looking to the side uncomfortably. "Long enough for you to get acclimated and trained. Think of it like an orientation."

But what happened after that time was up? Did she go back to how she'd been before? Petra wanted to ask that, but Nick seemed hesitant to discuss it, so she switched questions. "An orientation for what, exactly? Darius said I'd have to join the Veil. Is that what I'm training for?"

"Yes, but you're gonna need to know a lot more about your condition before I can get to that. The energy in your body has a bunch of advantages, as you're probably figuring out. You don't need to breathe, or eat, or drink. Your body doesn't need rest anymore but you will sleep, because your mind needs it. You can get hurt, but your pain threshold has jumped way up. Someone could shoot you in the shoulder, and you'd feel something like a bee sting at most. There is one obvious downside, though."

Hesitantly, Nick reached down for the flashlight. He pointed it away from her, and then turned it on. A piercing light emanated not just from the end but the whole thing, and Petra raised a hand to her eyes before Nick shut it off again. "Ow. What kind of flashlight is that?"

"A normal one," he said, handing it to her. Petra examined it briefly before bracing herself and turning it on again. Once again the whole thing lit up like a beacon, causing her to squint and turn it off. It hadn't even been pointed at her.

"Most people can only see a tiny fraction of the EM spectrum, but you and Darius are different. Anything that generates or uses electricity will be that bright to you, now. From what Darius tells me, power lines are a real pain." He tilted his head slightly. "You look like you have normal vision. Have you ever had to wear glasses or contacts?"

Petra shook her head. The gas lighting in here and in the corridor was starting to make sense now.

"You're going to have to get used to wearing them, I'm afraid," Nick went on. "Cities are filled with sources of electricity, so you'll go blind if you don't have the right protection. Darius told me he had to wear sunglasses for months when electricity came into common use back in the 1920s. He was also pretty surprised when he started seeing fades as well. That was much much earlier, though."

Petra handed the flashlight back. "So these fades.. they're electromagnetic creatures of some kind?"

That seemed to catch Nick by surprise. "Yeah. Good deduction there."

"It wasn't that hard. I'm still getting used to the idea that humans aren't the only intelligent beings around. Still, the way that thing hurt me and the fact that I could only see it for a second in that factory, only make sense if it's something like that."

"Well you're right. They're sentient, EM-based lifeforms. They've been around for at least as long as we have, existing alongside us throughout history almost completely undetected. Only you and Darius can see them in their normal forms but they can, with a lot of effort, be visible for just a second or two if they try hard enough. That's what you saw. Greed thought you were working for us, and that we'd betrayed him, so he wanted you to die slowly."

Petra remembered Darius and his conversation with the unseen foe. "Greed? That's really his name? And he's a he?"

Nick chuckled. "Fades don't actually have a gender. They don't reproduce the way we do. I can give you some reading material for later, but Greed started a faction of fades based on the emotion he feels is most valuable. There are a few dozen more factions, led by fades like Joy, Contentment, Rage, etc. All of them seem fixated on human emotions, and tie up their identity in one of them."

"Sounds like the worst therapy session ever," Petra grumbled.

Nick smiled at that, too. "Most of the fades are like us. They live their lives in peace, and let us do the same. This place exists because of the fades who aren't so easygoing." He stood and gestured to the door. "Here, let me give you the grand tour of this place. It's long past time we welcomed you to the Veil."

-.-

As Petra had suspected, this Veil building was mostly underground. She hadn't seen any windows, and the air flow seemed to be very well-maintained. Nick led her upstairs first, insisting that their first tour stop was the most important one.

"This will be a bit bright for you at first," he said apologetically, as they reached the top level. Sure enough there was a shining electric light coming from the end of that corridor up ahead. It looked like a dead end, from what little she could see. Nick hurriedly moved to the end of it, and hit a few keys on the pad at the end. There was a grinding noise and the top of the corridor lifted away, replacing the weird electric light with sunlight.

Now that the gears were no longer using electricity they were normal to her eyes, but Petra looked up the stairs that had been revealed. Was that a palm tree out there? Nick led the way upwards, onto a sandy surface underneath a clear sky.

She had wondered why it was so much warmer than usual down below. This late in the year, her home town was already starting to get chilly, but it was clear she wasn't in Vancouver anymore. "This is Kiri Atoll," Nick explained before she could ask. "A few hundred miles southeast of Hawaii."

Petra turned around slowly, taking in the whole view. It was an island all right, and a small one at that. She could see the white line of breaking waves from her current location, which looked like it was only a few meters above sea-level. That line wove its way in both directions, before looping back behind them. This whole landmass couldn't be more than four or five square kilometers. "You brought me.. to a tiny island in the middle of the South Pacific? How long was I out?"

"Only a day or so."

"What, did you fly me out here? I don't see an airstrip anywhere."

Nick laughed at that. "No, we have.. other ways to get around."

Petra guessed that made sense. "Yesterday I didn't believe it was possible to travel to other dimensions. I suppose this is no more strange. So why did you set up shop here in the middle of nowhere? Do your people just have a thing for beaches?"

Nick shook his head. "No, that's just a perk. Darius started moving people here about seventy years ago, when it became clear that human expansion would just keep going across every major landmass. Normally, fades can only move at about a walking pace, but where humans live, electricity is set up. For a fade, a power line is like a highway. They can ride along it almost instantly. When humanity started building an electric infrastructure for our nations, it turned a journey of months or years to the fades, into a journey of seconds."

"Which is why you don't have any cables running out here," Petra nodded. "Do the fades know you have a base here? The hostile ones, anyway."

"They've probably figured it out by now, but we're safe regardless. Even if a fade wanted to get out here the slow way, or hitch a ride on a ship, our facility is protected. Have you heard of a Faraday cage?"

It sounded familiar, but Petra didn't know for sure. "I don't think so."

"It's a metal mesh, with an electric current running through it. It stops all radio and wireless signals in their tracks. We tested it years ago, and it stops fades, too. There's a massive Faraday cage surrounding our whole facility down there, and another smaller one protecting our server room."

"Sheesh," Petra said in a quiet voice. "You don't mess around, do you?"

"Not when it comes to protecting our people," Nick said. "Most of the fades don't care that much about us, and we're on speaking terms with most of the major factions, but there are some individual fades who would like nothing better than to kill all of us. Our organization exists to keep the peace between humanity and the fades, and we can't do that if we're all dead."

She supposed that made sense. "If the whole thing is surrounded by an electrified mesh, how come I didn't see it on the way up? It should have been blinding." Petra said thoughtfully. She was starting to get used to her new circumstances and drawbacks. If something as simple as a flashlight was painful to look at, how was she supposed to catalogue her photos on the computer? Even her cameras themselves had small batteries inside!

"The top portion of the Faraday cage is actually a few levels down from where you woke up," he clarified. This whole place is camouflaged after all. We're hiding from humans as well as fades. We can't keep the peace if we're outed to the world either."

"Nick?" Another voice echoed up the passageway from below. A tanned, brown-eyed man wearing a cowboy hat came up after it. "There you are." He wore an easygoing smile as he approached, but his left hand was concealing something behind his back.

"Petra, this is Chuck," Nick introduced him. "He's been working here since well before my time. Chuck was one of the people who found you in your apartment and got you to Darius in time."

"That means I owe you my life," Petra said gratefully, shaking Chuck's hand. "Thank you."

"Anytime, ma'am." Chuck turned to Nick for a moment. "Darius is on the line from Bangkok. He wants to talk to you."

"Then I guess my part of the tour is over," Nick concluded. "Unless you want to take over for me?"

"Happy to," Chuck agreed, but Petra was still focused on what he'd said earlier. Not the part about Darius- she'd see him again eventually- but about the call.

"Wait, you get cell service out here?"

Chuck and Nick exchanged an amused glance. "Not exactly," Nick said evasively, but then he paused. "Chuck, while you're on the tour, why don't you tell her what you do here?"

Chuck's eyebrows rose noticeably. "Are you sure about that? On top of everything else already?"

"I'm sure. It's a sink-or-swim thing. Have fun," he added to Petra. She swore she could hear mischief in that voice. He beckoned at Chuck, who handed whatever it was he was hiding over to Nick. Then he hurried back down the stairs and out of sight. Petra could see a scar on the side of Chuck's head as he turned, just in front of his temple. It looked like it had been a deep cut, and a recent one.

"So," Chuck said offhandedly, closing his eyes in the breeze for a moment. "You've been having quite a day, huh?"

Petra cracked up at that. She laughed for a few seconds, and Chuck joined in. "Yeah. Yeah, you could say that."
« Last Edit: June 10, 2022, 01:44:40 AM by Daen »