The Joneses #19

I Knew You Were Coming So I Baked a Cake

“Director, your corvette is ready,” said a Seraph, with the approximate proportions of a fire hydrant, “Your pilot is standing by.”
“Tell him to take the afternoon off,” Ray said, “I’m going alone.”
“You sure?”
“Yeah, I’ve flown before. I wasn’t born a director.”
“One thing, though, you didn’t fill out the destination and purpose on the requisition.”
“That’s need to know.”
“Protocol dictates you supply the acting director with information before departing.”
“Guess what directors get to do?”
“Buck protocol?”
“Buck protocol,” Ray said nodding and pulling his jacket on.
“What if a situation arises where I need to contact you?”
“Handle it, Acting Director,” Ray said as he departed his office.

Ray strapped himself in and raised his hand to a panel overhead. His talon groped around for an object he expected to find. He looked up, then his head swiveled as his eyes darted between the control panels. His eyes fixed on a series of displays to his left and the switches beside them.
“They moved everything around on these new models,” he grumbled and flipped the switches.
The ship hummed to life and lurched to a hover, inches above the deck. It bobbed, like a bottle in the doldrums, as it established an equilibrium.
“Smooth. The greenhorns don’t know how good they got it,” Ray muttered to himself.
“You're clear for takeoff, Grandpa,” a voice came from the comms.
“That’s going on your permanent record.”
“Please, get off my flight deck,” the voice said with an audible grin.

Ray departed and after a few hours, of questioning reality in a wormhole arrived in an empty void in the already empty void of space. Space isn’t a perfect vacuum, there are always particles spitting out of the quantum sizzle, like fat on a grill, but this part of space was empty at every level.
“There isn’t even quantum activity here,” the computer purred, “But yet it’s not absolute zero.”
“That’s some camo you’ve developed there, Ellers,” Ray said, “Astrid, I want you to rake the spectrum with a Planck toothed comb.”
“Yes, Director,” the computer replied and screens lit up around the cabin with data flying across them far too fast for anyone to benefit from having it displayed, after several moments the screens froze and the computer spoke, “There are Planck length openings in the shielding in the electromagnetic spectrum,”
“It’s like a combination lock,” Ray says examining the screens, “Look at the numbers. It’s a date and coordinates. The date I know, it’s when Yaldabaoth was defeated, but what are the coordinates.”
“Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, Earth.”
“And if there were any doubts…” Ray mumbled.
“Is there anything we can do with these electromagnetic pin holes? Maybe slip in through them somehow?”
“Perhaps, if you were temporarily converted to electromagnetic energy.”
“Lovelace…” Ray rubbed his chin, “Is there any way to mimic her ability?”
“Can that theory be put into practice?”
“Processing...perhaps I could modify the waste disintegrator to convert you to electromagnetic energy.”
“Without killing me?”
“Theoretically,” the computer fell silent, “I’ve made the necessary adjustments. Ready to begin the procedure.”
“Okay...then start.”
“You’ll have to get in the waste disintegrator.”
“I have to crawl in the garbage?”
“It’s empty. It’s a brand new corvette. It’s never been used.”
“Alright, let me put a suit on in case I get transported to empty space. What are my odds of survival?”
“72.3 percent.”
“So, I have to win, like 4 coin flips?”
“723 out of a thousand.”
Ray crawled into the disintegrator and compressed himself into a ball to fit. And then he sat for a moment.
“What are you waiting for,” he said, “I can’t breathe in here.”
The disintegrator sealed shut and flashed. Ray felt like he was squeezed through a sieve. He found himself in the same balled up position, but now it wasn’t so crowded. Beneath him, he could see the ground. It was sand. Vast stretches of sand as far as he could see, save for right in front of him, where several miles off it looked as though the terrain was becoming green. He heaved and vomited.
“My streak,” he yelled, “9 centuries without throwing up, gone.”
He stood and shook out his stiff joints. He noticed that the sand was piled in the telltale ripples of windblown sand dunes. He pulled off his helmet and hazarded a breath. He took a deep draw, held it and let it seep back out. He held his hands out in front of him, palms to the ground. The air around him grew turbulent and lifted him off the ground. He darted off toward the edge of the what was appeared to be a forest. As he glided on the buffets of wind, he saw birds flying alongside, above and below him. The wheeled together in a synchronized flock, looping around him, but never colliding with him.
“Astrid, I don’t know if you can hear me,” Ray began, “The interior appears a lot like Earth. In fact, I think these birds are sparrows. The trees up ahead look like post oaks and maples.”
As Ray approached the forest he could see a massive wall stretch for miles in front of him. It toward well into the sky past the clouds. It was metal and articulated and looked as if it was built up over centuries. Below he could see a path leading to what looked like a door. He landed and found a hand-scribbled note taped to it.

Come this way, Ray!

Ray passed through the door into a hall, several hundred yards long. It was ornate and baroque; Louis XIV by way of Dino De Laurentiis. At the end was an elevated throne and on it sat Cheryl Ellers, looking as though she was in the throes of ennui, waiting for Ray to traverse the hall. A stiff wind kicked up behind Ray and whisked him toward the throne. It settled him a few feet from Cheryl. 
“You sit in a throne now?” Ray asked as he approached.
“Why not?”
“Ruling over nobody?”
Ray broke into a laugh.
“I’m just fucking with you. How long have you known me?” Cheryl grinned.
“Which iteration?”
“That’s cold, Ray.”
“Why have you been making so much noise lately?”
“Noise? You mean the Data Center breach?”
“Among other things.”
“Like what?”
“Association with a known fugitive.”
“Aw, give her a chance. Everyone deserves a do-over”
“She’s a repeat offender and from what I’ve seen she continues to be one.”
“She’s helping handle a situation the GA is content to kick down the road.”
“She’s still a criminal and I will arrest her given the chance.”
“You’re such an empire man now,” Cheryl said, “The Joneses are fugitives now too. Gonna arrest them?”
“That’s different. They’re my responsibility.”
“There’s the Ray I remember,” Cheryl smiled, nodding, “Massive ego disguised as responsibility.”
“And the GA is hardly an empire.”
Cheryl arched her eyebrow, “Do tell.”
“The planets govern themselves, the GA simple provides mediation in interplanetary disputes, provides a common currency…”
“Runs a hush-hush intelligence agency with some pretty wild skeletons in its closet.”
“Not everybody needs to know everything.”
“Like what’s out there? Beyond the galaxy? Headed this way?”
“Care to elaborate?”
“I wish I could. All I know is it’s old and it’s horrifying. One might even say ‘eldritch.’”
“Is that why you were breaking into the Data Center?”
“That and whatever ever else caught my attention. This seems like an all hands on deck situation. I’m going to need everyone on board. I’m getting the band back together. At least the ones that time hasn’t claimed. You in, Archangel?”
“First, don’t call me that. Second, you’re talking like you think you’re in charge. Third, what’s in this for you? You wouldn’t be interested unless it was in your self-interest.”
“First, sorry. Second, I am. Third, my self-interest is self-preservation. In or out?”
“In, but you’re not giving me orders.”
“I wanted you on the team because I know I don’t have to.”
“You wanted me here…”
“I practically put a neon sign out front telling you how to get in.”
“A bit roundabout way of getting in touch.”
“I didn’t have to lift a finger. I let Englebert do most of the work. He’s probably headed here now.”
“Englebert? That Englebert?”
“The same.”
“He’s working for you too?”
“Not that he’s aware of. I figured out his plan and rolled with it.”
“Who else is on this team?”
“Joneses, all three, Lacey, Wolfram says he could probably talk Tycho Hall into it.”
Ray held his hands up, “You’re telling me you want me to work with Lovelace?”
“Not the time Ray. You better get ready to be an associate of a wanted fugitive. I love how you slavishly cling to your rules unless that pesky ‘responsibility’ gets the better of you, then, fuck it, right? These rules won’t mean shit when this thing or things or whatever it is gets here. So let’s see that maverick spirit that got you tangled up in everyone’s lives.”

Lovelace entered the hall eating a bowl of cereal, “Hey, babe...” she said through a mouthful of Fruit Loops. As she saw Ray she froze. She dropped the bowl and drew a sparking dagger in both hands, “What the fuck is he doing here?”
“Lacey,” Cheryl put her hands up.
Lovelace leaped at Ray twilight in the air and landing a heel in his temple. Ray swung a balled talon at her and connected across her jaw. She ran at him, with blue and purple trails whirling behind her and drove him back several feet into the wall at great speed. She grabbed him by the neck and they both transformed into crackling arcs of energy which ran along the wall and remerged. The sparks reintegrated into Lovelace slamming Ray to the floor. She repeated this process until she found herself trapped in a prison of electricity. Cheryl held her there with the currents flowing from her hands.
“Cher,” Lovelace growled, “Are you protecting this asshole?”
“He’s on our side, Lacey,” Cheryl said.
“Like hell.”
“You know this is bigger than egos and grudges or whatever.”
Lovelace grunted in protest, but sighed and resigned. Cheryl dismissed the cage and Lovelace rose to her feet. As Ray retook his feet, She struck him across the jaw.
“Lacey,” Cheryl said.
“Just getting it out of my system,” Lovelace replied.
“Engelbert should be here soon. Remember I want to try to recruit him first. So no lethal the beginning. I trust all of you to know when the thing starts to go south.”
“You actually want to work with Engelbert? Truly an inspiration.”
“Not enough to keep you out of jail,” Ray said.
“Remember who was murdering your sorry ass back there?”
“Enough,” Cheryl said, with an unfamiliar authority in her voice, “You can’t be swiping at each other. I need to know this team can click. That thing is almost here.”
“When has Engelbert ever been a problem?”
“He can be when he wants to, but I was talking about the cosmic horror thing.”
“She’s crazy, right?” Lovelace said to Ray, “This is the early signs of code degradation, I know it.”
Ray shook his head.
“That thing she keeps going on about is real? Oh shit, I feel sick.”
“How do you know enough about it to keep going on about it?”
“I hear the stories the miners tell over the radio frequencies on the edges of the outer rim,” Cheryl pointed to her head, “It used to be a pretty crowded frequency band.”
“It’s gotten thin lately,” Ray said.
Lovelace looked from Ray to Cheryl, “I’m sorry, I didn’t believe you.”
“Never blamed you for it,” Cheryl said, “Looks like we can get to work. Consider Engelbert a dry run. I wanna see razzle dazzle out there.”