Empty Hunt

From the Story Arc: The Fading Flame: Meanwhile

Previous Story in the Arc: Who Is Against Us? Moment Two by Krasnaya Zvezda (Monday, April 02, 2007)

Next Story in the Arc: Rooftop by Belladonna Aura (Sunday, April 29, 2007)

(posted Thursday, April 12, 2007)

The two hardened crimson men crouched by their UFO, its grotesque yellow body and lamprey-like head of glass and docking-rings having gouged just enough dirt from the serene field to keep them out of sight. They fed iron belts into slim, futuristic matte-black weapons and stared with their cyclopean golden eyes at the fields of smoking bronze.

All in all, it would've made a good Beatles cover.

A silver man drifted down from the heavens, shedding the brassy trunk of gun-barrels he'd ripped from one of the countless spider-things in a moment of desperation. His arms lay flayed, the mercurial panels sprung wide and glowing white hot as steam poured from the backup coolant in his shoulders. Out of freeon, out of energy, and just now out of Nemesis-made bullets, Petrograd gave the field of beautifully intricate clockwork carnage one hungry look before digging back into the mock submarine.

The transponder clicked into his suit with its typical bone-jarring harmonics, and the ringing in his ears was just catching up with the infamous Paragon-ConEd jackhammers.

In my day we didn't have to put up with all this third-eye bull$*%& to get on the nekulturny radio. Even if the man on the other end was a drunken farm-boy who didn't know a vacuum tube from a Vodnik, he could use the $%&* thing like a pro, and you knew you weren't talking to...

The world shifted and blurred, the grating and buzzing no less annoying, and like elevator music a familiar face sidled into his view. The eyes more haunted, perhaps, and the reddish halo of fuzz poking around metalic EKG contacts still a shock after all these months, but anyone in the whole of the Congress would know a Sasha Rabinovich.

You can quit your grumbling, old man, I've got your C-waves locked in a dozen times just the harmonics. I swear, if your half-baked power circuits ever blow again, we can run the portal off your wishi...

Can it, Academik. Petro projected seriously, the thought carrying all the apprehension and urgency his face never could, Red Traffic, flash, one message one order, copy?

Petro had to give it to them: without fail, for all their quips and jibes, all the Aleksanders had their heads about them.

Red Flash, one message one order, copy. Go ahead.

To Commissariat: All priority: Ratt Pack status is negative, repeat negative. No life-signs, no transponder signals, no patchs, comms or radios. Three Sputnik-eyes deployed orbital on loophole-planar insertion, all confirm. Nothing here but us drones. Over.

Flash-Response: Bella: Dimension confirmed? Over.

Petrograd nodded absently, barely stopping himself as Sasha-N flickered. Da, triangulated, complete energy sweep, I even punched through damnned Amerikanski force-field on way in. We are in right place. Ratt Pack is nyet, over.

Copy. Red Flash Order, go ahead.

I want the crane swinging as soon as I touch water, and Soyuz Four prepped for crash launch. Full emergncy, set portal computers on exponential primes to keep them warm, pull out all stops. Over.

Soyuz Four, crash launch, copy. Conflict, repeat conflict, Green-3 in Soyuz Two is due back ASAP, reel them in? Over.

Where is Green-3, over?

Aleksander spun a ghostly rolodex on his half-imagined desk like a one-shelled revolver and whipped out the proper card. Oregon SSR, String Delineation 3.18e-6, coded 'Soviet Winter.' Over.

Petrograd huffed, obviously unimpressed. Tell those lazy kulaks to pitch a tent, I'm inbound in ten. Over and out.

Petrograd flicked off the backpack-sized unit, ending the sledgehammer blows to his skull, and Nemesis-Aleksander snapped from existence like an unplugged wire. No doubt he could find Green-3, he'd just have to concentrate on sugar-plum vissions of cloud-paled pacific socialist college girls. After all, how many men in the multiverse can be thinking, "By the time she calls, I'll be in another universe..."

Aleksander-N would've said 'infinitely many.' Not even that raised a chuckle as Petro waved his Berkut-suiters back to the ship. "DAVY, boys, 'reorient' in 5 seconds with or without you!!"

The cosmonauts were strapped in in 3, for all that it mattered. No matter how fast he ran it, Ivan knew he was out of moves. The future was astoundingly clear: Soyuz Four would sit in the launch tube, all fueld up, capacitors charged, him scrambling over the fragmented data of a shattered Western portal, and every tick of his chronometer would put Murdock's family, comrades, one second closer to gone.

The flash of the event-horizon swept past his eyes, and yet another world was left to the dead.