Guys, in this chapter, Sh** Gets Real. Or unreal, as the case may be. As of this posting, I’m up to 13,344 words written. I’m a little tired and I think I’ll fall behind tomorrow since I’m going out dancing, but I generally feel like I’m on target.
(If you want to start from the beginning, you can from here: http://blog.paulidin.com/?p=378)
A klaxon went off and I almost fell out of my chair. It was the sort of alarm you might hear during an attack on a ship in a military movie. I would have expected Clifton to leap to action and run to somewhere to do something based on the loudness and suddenness of the sound. Instead, he sighed and just stood up as if tired.
“Wren!” he called out. “Status, please.”
A tiny woman with purple and white hair scurried out from behind the curved wall of screens and moved to join us as The Master strode toward the exit of the war room. She held one of those tablet computer devices that Gwendolyn had been using, but in her minuscule frame, it seemed gigantic. She couldn’t have been more than a meter and a half tall, but seemed to be proportioned in such a way that she could easily be a swimsuit model. She wore a well-fitted red fuzzy sweater and slim black dress pants. The only break from her professional attire were her blue and white sneakers with little wheels in their soles. Once she’d hurried around the conference pit and drew abreast of us, she simply leaned back on her heels and coasted beside us, occasionally running again to regain momentum.
As I saw her approach, I wondered if Clifton only hired attractive women?
“Sir, a window has been broken through on the sixth level’s east side. Gwendolyn and the Pack are en route and Osgood’s team is waiting on the word to begin cleanup.”
Wren’s voice was a little bit gravelly and not at all childlike. I felt a bit of a traitor to Gwendolyn but I started to feel–
Wren spun her face to me without halting her wheeling progress and gave me a stern, “No!” much as you might tell a dog that has widdled on the carpet. Unsurprisingly, I felt just like I’d done that. But by the time I’d thought to start apologizing, we were entering the elevator.
Clifton seemed to notice I was with them for the first time and held his hand out to block the closing elevator doors. I guess that worked here, too.
“Adam, are you coming with us?” he asked.
“This sounds like trouble. I’m supposed to shoot it, aren’t I?”
The old man chuckled, “That’s true enough, but this isn’t what I wanted to hire you for and you’ve got no training”
I moved Clifton’s arm away from the elevator door opening and simply said, “We’re wasting time.”
Clifton nodded as Wren said, “Transporter, Level Six, East, site of the alarm”
I turned to face the two of them together. Now that we’d stopped running, I noticed that Wren had a glowing blue light in her left ear and that her necklace seemed to be made up of little blue lights as well. It seemed reasonable to figure that those were communication devices. So that’s what I figured.
“What’s the big deal?” I asked them. “I can see that you’re both agitated but a broken window can be fixed, can’t it?”
“It’s not a window to the fresh air outdoors, idiot,” said Wren. I could tell she was warming up to me. “It’s a window to something else and that something else has broken into here. Level Six is below ground, remember?”
Of course it was. I knew myself that there were only two levels above ground, and I’d known it since I walked in through the front doors. My poor reasoning skills were bound to cast me in a bad light in front of my new boss, but I pressed on.
“The floors below ground aren’t really below ground, then. Does this transporter connect the top portion of Wishbook to a bottom portion elsewhere? Is this a multidimensional thing?”
Wren frowned at me and said, “That’s almost right.”
My almost-right guesses kept on almost hitting their marks. That was almost just great.
“The top four floors of Wishbook are in your reality. The bottom twenty-three floors, including The Master’s suite, are in a fractional space that you can think of as infinitely thin and just below Level Four. The Transporter performs a reality compression transition when we come down and a decompression on the way back up.”
The math nerd in me got a little excited.
“We’re in Flatland, right now? I can’t even tell!”
“Congratulations,” Wren said, “I’ve never gained and then lost respect for anyone so quickly as just now. How could this be 2-dimensional space when we can all move around each other? Idiot.”
“Has Stumpy been deployed?” interjected Clifton.
“No, sir, not yet,” replied Wren, immediately contrite. “Shall I dispatch him now?”
She held the tablet up in one miniature hand, like a waitress would steady a large platter of orders, and quickly double-tapped an icon near the bottom of the screen. A holographic scene popped up and hovered over the computer tablet, looking startlingly similar in nature to an image of a space princess about to make a plea to her only hope. However, there were numerous figures portrayed here, unlike the princess’s message. Among others were a birdlike figure but with humanoid legs, something like a robotic octopus, and maybe a lion. But the central figure was about twice the size of the next largest and looked like a blocky figure made out of clay.
“Stumpy, you’re go for the alarm,” Wren said.
Immediately, the large blocky figure turned to his left and took some running steps into nothingness. I reasoned that he’d stepped out of view of the holographic camera or whatever was capturing these images. The other figures continued to “stand” around as if nothing had happened. Wren double-tapped the same icon on her screen and the images disappeared.
“I want one of those,” I said.
Wren almost smiled. “You want a golem?”
“Well, I wouldn’t mind a golem,” I clarified, “but what I meant was, I’d like to have a tablet computer with holographic capabilities. What do you call that?”
Her smile disappeared entirely as she replied, “Classified.”
“Of course, you do. So, are you and Mr. Golem good friends? Has anyone pointed out the comedic aspect of ‘Wren and Stumpy’ to you?”
And the frown was back as she observed, “My Mother! You are infantile, aren’t you?”
“Hey, I’m at least adolescentile. Collegiatile? Something like that.”
Through our banter, Clifton had just been staring at the progress lights on the wall. As I’d suspected, this elevator could move both up and down and from side to side. Once the light hit the sixth floor level, it moved swiftly to the left and stopped two lights from the end. I figured this must be the East section.
The door slid open and Clifton was gone. I could barely see him running, he was moving so quickly. Wren began to run as well, but I was able to keep up with her. Frankly, it was tough even if I did have the advantage of significantly longer legs.
Out of the Transporter, Wren turned left and raced down another long hallway as I followed. Far down its length, I could just make out The Master making an abrupt right turn. As soon as he was out of sight, Wren skidded to a halt and threw herself flat on the ground.
“Get down!” she cried out. Then, without waiting to see if I followed her instructions (I did), she called out, “Walkway, jump to corridor 23!”
It’s a good thing I had fallen flat onto the ground and had begun hugging it because suddenly the floor itself shot forward. I could feel myself starting to slip backwards, but it wasn’t a very long trip so we came to a halt before my frictional coefficient gave up on me. I looked down the perpendicular corridor as we were slowing down and realized I could once again see the last of Clifton, this time shooting through a door to the left. Wren saw him, too, and seemed to make a quick calculation in her head.
“Stay down,” cautioned Wren before she exclaimed, “Walkway, jump to hall 10!”
And there we were. I awkwardly fell upward into a standing position. You’d understand what I meant if you saw it. Wren brushed herself off and ran through the door in pursuit of her boss, with me just a moment behind.
Now, when I think of invading somethings from beyond a window into nowhere, I think of tentacles. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s from all the popularized images of Cthulu. Regardless, tentacles and extradimensional monsters go together for me like peanut butter and extradimensional monsters.
What? They’re not supposed to make sense.
So, as I followed Wren into the large warehouse space, I looked around for tentacles.
I couldn’t see every part of the room, of course, but I could see most of the right wall from the entrance because it was straight in front of me. The entrance opened up into a corner of the warehouse, actually, so I could see right down the perpendicular wall, as well, but I was pretty focused on what I first saw.
The shelves weren’t arranged very closely together like you might find in a bookstore. Instead, each shelving unit seemed to be about two-meters deep and the aisles between the shelves were probably about four-meters wide. The shelves looked like they rose up about eight meters, but it was pretty dark near the top so I could have been estimating wrong. I mostly remember thinking that they must have gotten a great deal on this property regardless of what it cost, considering every floor I’d been to had practically had cathedral ceilings.
The action was taking place three aisles before us and blockbuster movie directors would have been jealous.
Gwendolyn’s clothes were torn in places and I could hear her snarling as she leapt in and out, biting and swiping her claws in attack. Oh, yes, those were definitely claws. She wasn’t alone in that style of warfare, either; I thought I counted three others with feral features, long teeth, and sharp nails fighting the same way, but they moved so quickly it could have been two or five more. I guessed that must be her “pack”.
The blocky figure of Stumpy the golem looked just as he had in the holographic image on Wren’s tablet, except that he was twice as tall as Clifton and about three times as wide. Proportionally, he was probably moving very fast. But he was so enormous, it appeared not to be swift at all as he swung his massive fists into the foray. When they connected, though, I felt the vibrations through the ground beneath my feet.
Clifton seemed to have just finished assessing the situation as Wren and I came up behind him. He reached into his overcoat and pulled out a sword that I would swear was as long as I am tall. It’s possible that I reflexively cried out, “Highlander!” You don’t know. You weren’t there. Sword in hand and letting out no more than a grunt of exertion, the Master plowed into the battle.
I wasn’t sure what I could do yet and Wren seemed content to stay an observer here on the sidelines with me. She did, however, start making gestures all over her tablet device.
Now, I’ve as much heroism as cowardice and probably both as much as the average fellow on the street. If I’d seen tentacles and had a sword or a gun handy, I’d have thrown my meager attack points in with my new employer. That’s not what I saw.
I saw a bunny rabbit.
It was a brown and white lop-eared rabbit, complete with fluffy tail and twitchy nose. Admittedly, it was about two meters tall and two meters wide. But regardless of its size, it was still a bunny rabbit.
I turned to make a joke about it to Wren and stopped. She was definitely not in a joking mood. The fury on her face actually made me flinch. What was I missing?
I looked again and this time I stopped anticipating and evaluating and just absorbed it all.
– Gwendolyn and another pack fighter jumped on the thing’s back at the same time, tore into it with their fangs, and barely scratched its surface before it shook them off. I saw some red and purple wetness fly off with the two of them.
– Stumpy’s unstoppable fists swung down and seemed to crush the rabbit’s head, left after right and right after left, and didn’t seem to make a difference. Occasionally, something would cause him to stumble backwards and he’d take a couple of steps to steady himself before he stomped forward again to repeat his punches.
– Clifton’s actions were most indicative that things were not what they seemed. He kept grunting as he swung his enormous sword to and fro, in and out. He would occasionally thrust it up held at an angle as if to ward off an attacker and then return to his offensive maneuvers. Each swing of his arm made things of flesh and gore fly off of the bunny, but I couldn’t see any damage being done.
– The rabbit was gliding forward into the aisle away from the wall. I didn’t see it take any steps or adorable hops, but it was making progress anyway.
– I noticed that there were the remnants of a torn painting hung up on the wall behind the bunny. It looked as though a cannonball had been shot through it from the outside in to here. The flapping tatters of canvas that I could see from this angle made it look like it had been a pastoral scene. It could have been some sort of grassy field with some flowers near the bottom. There appeared to be a large tree on the right side with thick branches that extended across the top of the image. There was something strange about those branches, though.
I turned back to Wren who was now slapping angrily at her tablet device.
“What do you see there?” I asked her.
“Not now, idiot!” she shrieked at me.
I put my hand on her shoulder and she looked at it in disgust and then up at me.
“This is important, Wren. All I can see there is a giant rabbit and that’s a lie. What do you see? What are they fighting?”
She looked like she was about to be angry with me but I guess she decided it would be faster just to answer me to get me to shut up.
“I don’t know the name of it,” she said, “and I don’t know if it would help you to hear it. It’s a great big writhing mess of energy and tentacles. It’s about two and half meters long and about two meters tall. It’s got a great big prehensile tail that it keeps whipping into Stumpy to knock him back. The big problem is that it has a harder-than-steel carapace over most of its body. Stumpy isn’t able to crack it and The Master hasn’t been able to slice it yet. It’s draining our energy reserves somehow and its corrosive trail is going to eat through the floor soon if it’s not stopped.”
I felt a little justified about my pre-conceived notions when I heard about the tentacles. But I hadn’t heard what I was hoping to hear.
“There’s no head? Is it just blindly flailing about?”
“No, there’s a head in the middle of all the tentacles. It looks like a cock’s head and keeps snapping at the wolf pack and at The Master, back and forth.”
She had me at cock’s head. As soon as I heard that, I strode up behind Clifton and said, “This thing needs to be strangled to be killed!”
He spun around and glared at me as if I had no good reason to be there. And he might have been right, but I was trying to make sure that the good reason would be obvious by my actions.
“I’m telling you,” I elaborated, “the fastest way to stop this thing is to get something around its neck and strangle it somehow.”
Without warning, The Master flat-palm punched me in the chest and I went flying backwards. As my feet left the ground, I could hear a whooshing sound and thought I saw a great bulbous purple tentacle snap past where my head had just been. I flew back so far and so quickly, that I passed over Wren’s head and she turned to watch my flight in astonishment. I knew it was going to hurt whenever I landed, but I was too busy watching the fight to care.
As soon as Clifton had knocked me back, he spun around and jumped onto… Well, I still saw it as a bunny rabbit, but at least I knew what the illusion was disguising. If I wasn’t imagining it, I might have heard him cry out, “Ah-hah!” as his arms seemed to disappear into the cute monster.
I hoped I was right about my guess, but I wasn’t sure I’d live to find out as I slammed back into the warehouse wall. I really didn’t want to lose consciousness again but I didn’t seem to have much choice in the matter.