A/N: Greetings! Welcome to my long, rambling Magnum Opus! It's a little bit Sci-Fi, and a little bit Fantasy; a little bit Supernatural, and a whole lot of Slice of Life. What it really is, though, is my first seriously long work, so please, Read and Review, even if it's just a chapter.
I suppose I should put out a warning: this work is rated "M" for good reason; it contains references to lesbianism, lesbians, and persons who may-or-may-not be classified as women, who are interested in romantic liaisons with (other) women. There are also nude scenes, scenarios of a decidedly sexual nature (no sex yet; check after I hit thirty chapters), substance (nail polish) abuse, use of food items in a non-food manner, and the occasional profane exclamation. Thankfully, I was able to omit all of the scenes with the pogo stick, since there isn't one in the story, but that's a completely different issue.
Thank you for your time, and let's get on with the show!
Section 0 – Prologue – "I Had a Dream…"
Commander "B-4" Bates' on-site sleep niche, Bates Laboratories, 3:30 AM; Early June, 203X
The alert went off, and B-4 bolted out of bed, grabbing his CyberVisor ™ and defensive blouse while heading out the door, before he was even fully awake.
At 6'2' and 250 lbs, B-4 cut an impressive figure in just shorts. With the reflective eyewear and dark jacket, he made it look intimidating, shorts or no; Sprint-jogging down the hallway and barking commands to the security system only made him more so. Seeing no outside intrusions, either physical or computerized, he skipped grabbing his matching pants in preference to proceeding to the "Command Office"; actually just another presentation space, but one the family had made their de facto personal planning and control room.
He demanded an internal status report, and the two things he saw stopped his impulse to call for a diagnostic cold. One, someone had fired up his sister's so-crazy-it-somehow-worked time machine. Two, he was getting summary (if customized) reports on it, not a direct report from Sebby, the facility's (and to some extent, his) Personal Assistant.
That was his sister, L.L., doing that, which meant that she was already in the office, and at - he blinked a command to his visor - 3:32 AM, no one should be in there. He dropped the "jog" part and flat-out sprinted, while trying to find out what the devil was going on.
"L.L., what gives?"
*"Will, it's JoJo."
"Call me B-4, sis."
*"Don't you have enough different names people call you, 'Commander'? Never mind that, and listen up: JoJo's Jumped but something's wrong – we found her body in the Canyon."
"Wait – outside 'Canyon,' or…"
*"She's in the Projection Chamber. Or rather, Sebby says her body's there, but her mind's gone."
B-4 stopped. Then, being almost there, he power-walked in, taking off the visor, to look at his not-quite twin sister.
Louisa Lively Bates was, even in her late thirties, still an impressively-built woman, thanks to a near-lifetime of year-'round athletics. At a statuesque 5'10", she was not quite her younger brother's height, but she was just as muscular, and a body-hiding labcoat over what looked like a two-piece pink and black wetsuit did nothing to hide it. Her shoulder-length black hair also gave a contrast to B-4's military-style flat-top. With a tear-less, but about-to-be-sick expression, she wordlessly pointed to two displays, one showing the sibling's older sister, looking as if she were taking a nap on the floor (she even had a pillow under her head), the other showing the System Bichronic Coupling status. This second display explained L.L.'s override, and her lack of tears; after a system restart, JoJo – or her mind, soul, whatever – should have been lost forever down the rabbit hole of the past, but somehow, Sebby had gotten it going again, and was miraculously reconstructing a link to … wherever JoJo's consciousness had gone.
Except, something was wrong.
The system was made for one-way observation only; the risks of information transfer changing things were bad enough going from far past to future. At least, that was the theory; it seemed, as usual, that their "little big sister" was once again running a completely different game plan than anyone else was counting on.
"Keep reading Will. Check the coupling resource load."
"Hey, you guys are the scientists, I'm strictly here-and-now."
"It's Sebby. He's gone after her so far that I don't know if we can bring him back, nevertheless her."
B-4 looked at the figures again, then put on his visor to confirm: as long as the Coupler wasn't turned off again, they might have a chance, but the time (ironic, that) it was taking to establish the connection was putting a load on the lab's power station that increased exponentially. If they didn't make a link soon, the lab was going to have to tap into the power grid, and at levels that would cause a dip noticeable on the national level. If it got that far, then Commander, NDF (Reserves), William George Bates, IV, Ph.D., was going to be suddenly explain whether letting one of the country's main cybersecurity officers take a sabbatical to play with his sisters is less of a boon, and more of a threat, to national security.
Sudden movement caught B-4's eye. Someone was opening the door to the "Box Canyon," even though the system was powering up, which shouldn't even be possible, unless... B-4 called up the access camera to the chamber door, and confirmed his guess: the on-site paramedics were opening the door, by hand. Meanwhile on the first monitor, tiny tendrils of violet energy were seen, bouncing around the chamber, concentrating on irregularities within it, which more-or-less meant JoJo's body...and the slowly widening crack of the door.
Having a bad feeling, B-4 asked, "Sis, who put that pillow under JoJo's head?"
L.L. squinted at the picture and shrugged. "It's been there since this all started. For all I know, she put it there herself."
"That's what I was afraid of." Clicking to "prime" the computer for verbal commands, he ordered, "lock-down on Projection Chamber door, NOW!" The last being his "magic word" for immediate action.
Unable to comply. Manual override already in progress
"Crap!" Give me PA to the Canyon Projection Chamber Access Corridor
"Attention in the Canyon: this is B-4 Bates. Stop trying to open the door, it's dangerous!"
"Screw your danger, we already have a call; there's someone down in there."
"There's nothing you can do right now but add yourself to the casualty list. I say again, cease and desist!
"B-4? You're the freaky spook that's always going around like he's Geordi LaForge! Thanks, Geordi, but we've got it here."
"Who the he-" B-4 checked the nametag - and most certainly did not check the humungous breasts - of the lead paramedic. "Hollowell? As in Pipi Hollowell?"
"My name is Vickie, if it's any business of yours. You can call me Medic, Geordi."
"Well, as I live and breathe, if it isn't Pipi Thong-Stocking! Now, Pipi, see that flashing red light over the door, there? That's the Activation light. It means that the Chamber is Active. Thus the name. Now-"
"Now," interrupted 'Pipi', "we've got some medic-ing to do."
B-4 ended the PA feed and sighed, although his cocky cock-sided grin spoke less of frustration than resignation.
"Well, she's sure dedicated to her craft. Let's see if she can 'medicate' herself."
As the door opened more and more, the violet branches became thicker around JoJo, though the "strikes" on the door lessened. Finally, the door was opened wide enough to let one of the paramedics through...whereupon the poor soul got zapped by a bright amethyst bolt of energy.
"Close the door! Close the door!" Vickie cried.
As soon as the door was closed again, the energies surrounding JoJo quickly dispersed.
No one else touched the chamber for three days.
On the Way Home, 11:30 PM, Autumn; "Present Day"
The bus slowed to a stop past the light, so I shouldered my backpack and closed my «Руский Язык» textbook. I stopped at the front of the all-but-empty bus, in time to hear the driver give his "Have a good night, and thanks for riding the Sun Bus" spiel.
"Thank you, Bob, and have a good night."
"G'night, Geo." At least, that's how I thought of it; it's short for "George," my middle name, but I say it like "Joe."
I watched the bus as it went on the last couple of blocks up the street, and turned the corner, before continuing across the street to walk the last couple of blocks home. Thanks to the vagaries of municipal planning, the bus, which connects the east and west campuses of the county community college – and also runs by the local university – also served well to get me home. Thus, I could take the "last train out of Dodge" after spending almost all evening watching anime with my friends, without having to make any of them go out of their way to take me home. I figure, while I have my own car, the bus goes right between school and home, and a bus pass is a lot cheaper than a parking pass, so I'll let the school pay for gas, while I work on paying for school.
Ten minutes later, after picking up the mail, I use my key and come in. Mom's still up, and asks if I'm okay. "Sure I am, Mom, have you heard anything different?"
"No, Geo, I was just hoping that there wasn't anything wrong that happened between the last time you called and now."
"Gee Mom, most moms are happy if their kids remember to call at all. C'mon, big black man, with a big blue backpack, no one's gonna bother me. They wouldn't want to have to move my backpack."
She smiled at little quip, and I closed the door, yawned, and threaded through the maze of furniture to my room. Our apartment is a small two-bedroom, but we have a lot of the furnishings from the house; part of my parents' divorce proceedings, finalized this year. It's funny, I remember how my dad was all, "When you're eighteen, you're going to be out of the house." Now, we're all out of the house, since it got sold as part of the divorce, too. I'm still with Mom, although I help with rent now. I kissed her "good night", hung my backpack on my desk chair, put my clothes in the laundry basket, and got to dreaming before whatever show Mom was watching was done
It was a place of contrast. Before me was a mountain, beside me an abyss. The sounds I heard could be a singing choir or screamers in torment...or even just the wind. Which was blowing down said mountain with a scent that was…hard to pin down; unusual but mindful of home, like fresh sheets and nutmeg. The area I was on was a small patch of gray surrounded by deepest black, except for the mountain, which was a thematic purple – a grayish lavender if you need that detail.
I was crouched on my knees in twilight. On top of the gigantic mountain was the throne room of a Being of unimaginable power. There was a wind blowing down from off of the mountain, but it wasn't cold. It blew hard though, as if the air itself were being hurled down from the heights. The main issue on my mind was that I was a hair's breadth from being dead.
The small patch of dirt on which I curled up was spectacularly lit just by being in view of that One, but it would take no more than a strong push in any other direction to send me into darkness as thick as that throne room was bright. By, but not on, my side was an angel, a messenger of wrath and woe, armed with a sword that could slice through solid stone. This I knew first-hand, as the ground I was curled up on was, a short while ago, part of the mountain before me. The angel, unconventionally dressed in a dark gray trench coat and trousers, and perfectly polished cavalry boots, had one task for now: should it please his Lord, and mine, to detach my head from its perch upon my neck, and then to dispatch the remains off into that dreadful, cold darkness..."below". That explained the boots; they looked perfectly-made for the task; not hard to believe, considering... For now, our tasks were identical: to wait upon the Lord, literally, as He decided whether more mercy would be warranted, or if I got what I deserved, and was sent via the flashing-sword-and-jackboot express to..."environs South."
I was filled with dread and terror. I'd committed horrible sins, the particulars too numerous, and repulsive, to mention. No surprise there, since disappointing myself and my parents with my misspent potential was a frequent pastime for me. Finally, I'd been brought to heel, and been called to account for my misdeeds. Directly - as in, beyond-appeal-by-any-Earthly-power, directly. For one brief moment, I had been close to that throne room, but the filth inside my flesh couldn't stand to stay so close to the power - the Power - unswervingly opposed to the evil I did by habit. The evil which my life had been spent doing. Not that I'm an accomplished sinner; under-achievement has always been my calling card , but what I lack in quality, I make up for in quantity. So not daring to approach that furious Power, I fled. Now I was at the edge of darkness, called to heel, and the shame of it all filled me, body and soul. I was all but in the "Outer Darkness," and this Angel of Vengeance was watching, waiting for some sign of disrespect from me, in order to swing that huge silver sword, and begin the punishment I deserved. In fear, I breathed shallowly, so as to move as little as possible. Desperately I prayed: «Please, God, I know I've defied and failed you, I've offended You, been horrid, yet I don't want to die, not just yet, not in this state. Please, you're a God of Mercy, as well as a God of Justice. Please, I know I don't deserve your grace, but I ask to make good use of it. Please…»
Then two things happened that, if anything, turned my fear up to eleven. The angel carefully - I'm hoping for "carefully" with fervor, right now - placed the tip of his sword into the ground about six inches from my neck. Then he pushed - not even very hard, just enough to show that it was done on purpose. The sword swiftly sank into the chips, and the piece of mountain under them., with a smooth crunching hiss, as if the stone were no more of a problem to cut through than styrofoam. I had absolutely no doubt that that sword could be through my neck faster than I could look back up towards the top of the mountain.
The sword, impressive as it was, was not part of what happened. One, there was a distinct pressure in my chest, like something - or Someone - had gripped me, inside and out. Two, the Being was speaking to me, softly, but no less full of a special kind of power. «Have I denied you mercy, even when you did not ask?»
No, never. If anything, You let me get away with too much.
He smiled, and though I couldn't see it, I felt it. I was…not "getting away with" anything, but for now it was...covered. «You have things to do - »
And then I woke up.