“You are showing me that on purpose.”
The Librarian glanced at the golem briefly, then continued his work as he parsed the constant stream of data that was being extracted from it.
“You’re hoping to fine-tune your extraction by using associative memories.” The golem grinned. “That’s a weakness organics suffer from.”
“And yet it’s working.” The Librarian said under his breath without looking at the golem.
“What’s working?” Orin appeared out of thin air and looked over the Librarian’s shoulder.
“Orin! How are the wife and kids?” The golem beamed.
Orin didn’t pay attention to that jab. His wife and children were casualties in the War, thanks to the self-detonation of millions of golems. The end result of that collaborative explosion was a devastated planet with a sterilized surface.
“I’ve been able to extrapolate the data stream and narrow down the expectations of the Sadari.” The Librarian looked at Orin.
The Keratian held his arms out. His cloak abruptly became vaporous and withdrew into his skin, leaving him with modest, black undergarments. He reached out and moved the data to see it better. “They seem to be focusing on a celestial alignment to mark the time for their plans.”
“And it is happening soon.” The Librarian nodded. “They plan on weaponizing a deviant then.”
“Deviant? What an insulting name. He will be a blessing and bring order to the universe.” the golem grinned. “I hope he decides to keep you, Orin. You’re fun.”
“Old information.” Orin grumbled.
“New matches. Some of our Watchers were able to briefly break through the haze of the Forbidden World to see these planets.”
“I know. The stress of it killed one of them and injured the other. We’re down to a single Watcher now.” Orin scowled.
“The Watcher Guild is reticent to dedicate more to the mission. Even though they are all Gatekeepers and fall under my purview already.” Orin leaned against the stone ledge as he regarded the golem critically. “Any change in the micro-fractures?”
“No. The casing is stable.” The Librarian followed Orin’s gaze. The golem had been entombed up to its neck in a huge block of igneous rock. Wires protruded from its head where probes had been inserted. The golem grinned back at them and started spewing nonsensical words.
“You haven’t found a way to turn that off yet, have you.” Orin turned back around to look at the display. The jumble of random words and images served to attempt to obfuscate any useful information they could extract from the golem.
The Librarian shook his head. “I try to filter it, but it does slow me down.”
“If you would reconnect with the other Librarians, you could filter the stream much faster.” Orin glanced back at the golem.
“Three thousand years and the answer is the same. What the Archive knows, everyone knows and you’d lose your status as Gatekeeper Guildmaster and Chaser Commander.” The Librarian crossed his arms.
“This close, perhaps that is an equitable sacrifice.” Orin glanced back at the golem. “Whatever is going to happen is going to happen soon.”
“I’ll be morphing soon. When I do my processing capabilities will significantly increase.”
“You would morph here rather than back at the Archive?” Orin raised an eyebrow.
“As you said, equitable sacrifice.” The Librarian blinked and looked down. He had been an isolated resident of the remote planet from since the golem was captured and interned there. It was illegal to keep a golem. They were to be immediately destroyed. But he had been able to disable its catastrophic self-destruct capability, and the need for information proved too tempting.
“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. You have already sacrificed enough.” Orin said solemnly. “I have a meeting with the Watcher Guildmaster.” He turned to go as a mist formed around him and solidified into a dark cloak. He pulled the hood back and looked at the Librarian. Before he could say anything, a tremor shook the cave, causing dust to fall around them.
“You have visitors,” the golem said gleefully.
Orin walked over to the floating display and opened up another screen. There was a conflict up above between Venda ships and the Keratian forces. “How did they find this place?”
“There is an old temple closer to the surface.” The Librarian expanded the display. “The Chasers must have found it.”
“Without notifying me?” Orin scowled. He activated a communicator. “Maran. Which team is working the Braz Rift?”
“You know about that already?” Maran sounded surprised. “I’m not done with my report.”
“Lohet. They followed a Venda convoy and found a deviant.”
Orin sighed. Lohet preferred to have more concrete information before making a report. As a result, that usually happened after the deviant had been dispatched and its Venda tenders killed. He closed the connection and looked at the Librarian. “We need to leave.”
“Gating will attract the deviant. We should wait this out.”
“They’re too close.” Orin said. “There’s an old asteroid mine I can send you to.”
“You will be found out if the deviant comes after you.”
“I need to talk to them anyway.” Orin smiled. The stone tomb and the golem it encased abruptly vanished. Orin looked at the Librarian for a moment, then he vanished too, leaving Orin alone in the chamber. He closed his eyes and looked through the Fracture, trying to find the deviant.
A huffing sound behind him ended his search, however, and Orin opened his eyes and looked around. What he saw looked like a ten year old boy. His eyes were blank, however. And he was huffing and grunting as he reached out towards him.
Orin danced back out of his reach and tried to gate to the surface. The deviant closed his gate before he could escape, causing an explosion of energy within the cave that threw both of them against the far walls. Orin shook his head as he stood up. The deviant was already on his feet and was staring at the wall of the cave. Orin gathered his energy and suddenly accelerated, achieving thousands of miles an hour within the space of an inch as he aimed for the distracted deviant.
Even at Orin’s excessive speed, the deviant was still able to sense him and gate away before Orin hit him. Orin stopped just short of the far wall, letting the energy of his acceleration continue on. That resulted in even more shattered stone wall as shrapnel flew across the room. He looked back to see the deviant standing in a puddle of molten rock. The overall temperature within the chamber increased precipitously as the deviant started huffing again.
Orin took a step back and looked around. He had expected the others to find him by now. The deviant was suddenly standing right in front of him. He reached out and gripped Orin as strongly as another Keratian would. Pain flooded into Orin and he instinctively tried to gate away again, but suddenly wasn’t in control anymore. He was no longer in the room. He saw the universe as a whole, and the lives of the other gatekeepers the deviant had consumed. All of their memories, hopes and dreams. And then he saw blackness.
~ ~ ~
“Are you having trouble with the concept of keeping a low profile?” Keith said with barely restrained anger.
“No one was injured. It was just a regular wreck that happens to regular people all the time.” Andrew rubbed his eyebrows as he shifted his phone to the other ear. “Reception is starting to drop again.”
“Convenient. You actually hit a deer? Should we ask for our money back for all the training…”
“A tire blew out. I was evading the deer just fine.” Andrew interrupted.
“Know your equipment, Andrew. That’s first year training.” Keith snapped.
“It’s taken care of. A logger picked us up and we’re heading into town.”
“And more exposure.”
“You know as well as I do that the best way to hide is in the open, Keith.” Andrew glanced at Sally and Jonah. “Mary’s okay, by the way.”
“She had better be, after the stunt you just pulled.”
“Keith… this can’t be about the wreck. I’ve had stuff like this happen, even in Moscow. And I move on like anyone does.”
“Stuff like this isn’t supposed to happen. People remember you.”
“People forget me.” Andrew sighed. “I’m just a regular guy.” He rubbed his brows again. “Did I tick off some diplomat or something? Is this all payback?”
“The mission is very important, Andrew. We already have a target for them to work on as soon as they get onsite.” Keith said curtly.
“I gathered this wasn’t going to be a vacation. But you’ve never thrown a fit before.” Andrew glanced towards the front of the RV they were riding in. “You didn’t have authorization for this mission, did you?”
“The NSA is covering this. I just provided what they needed.” Keith said curtly. “The details are between you and me.”
“Of course. Not my first rodeo.” Andrew said.
“Then act like it. Be invisible.”
Andrew put his phone down. Mary walked back and sat next to him. “Your boss?”
“He is glad you’re okay.” Andrew smiled.
“He better be.” Mary poked the tip of Andrew’s nose.
“Drew… you want to tell me why we passed through the last town?” Sally asked loudly across the RV.
“It’s Andrew, Sally. Or Mr. Lee if you’re not careful.” Andrew glowered at her. He sighed and squinted as he looked forward to the front of the vehicle. “We’re almost there.”
“You know he’s going up to Oregon. If we’re going this far, why not just…” Sally shrugged.
“Because I don’t want to.” Andrew said shortly, then caught himself and glanced at Mary. He rubbed the back of his neck and looked at Sally. “We still need to take care of the rental.”
“And we couldn’t do that in the last town…why?” Sally crossed her arms.
The RV abruptly slowed and pulled off the road into a truck stop parking lot. Andrew stood up. “Everyone off. I hope you like chicken fried steak. That’s about all they serve here.”
Sally made a face as she gathered her stuff and followed Jonah off the vehicle.
“Are you mad at them?” Mary asked quietly as she followed Andrew off.
“Headache.” Andrew said simply. He looked around then adjusted the bags on his shoulder. “You called the rental, right?”
“Yes, Drew.” Mary said, smirking.
Andrew shook his head, frowning as he held the restaurant door for Mary. He followed her in and walked to the table Sally and Jonah were getting settled in. “Not this one. Over there.”
“Why?” Sally asked, looking.
Andrew didn’t answer but walked over to the table he had pointed at. Sally gave Jonah and look and her husband raised his eyebrows and helped her get their bags and move to the other table. Andrew looked up from his menu then glanced at the security camera. Sally followed his gaze then looked at him questioningly.
“What are you drinking?”
“Huh?” Sally asked, blinking.
Andrew pointed and Sally looked up at the waitress. “Oh. Um… tea? Unsweetened?”
“I’ll have Wong Way’s Chocolate Ale.” Andrew said as he leaned back. The waitress looked at him for a moment then gathered the orders of the rest.
“Wrong Way?” Jonah asked.
“Wong Way. Microbrew. Tongue in cheek jab at Larry Wong’s name.” Andrew grinned. The waitress returned and put a bottle down on the table in front of Andrew. Andrew looked at the label and turned the bottle around so it faced the camera. “Everyone will have the house special.”
The waitress nodded as she wrote on her ticket then walked off without another word.
The dinner didn’t last long. It wasn’t what Jonah and Sally were accustomed to, but they were famished nonetheless. Andrew grinned as he watched them wolf it down. Prison food was very minimally dolled out and barely edible. He pushed his plate away and tended his glass of water as he stared at the door.
“You haven’t touched your beer.” Sally said.
“I hate the stuff.” Andrew said. He took another drink of his water.
“Digest. Relax.” Andrew said. He glanced at Mary who smiled back at him.
“It’s getting late.” Sally said.
“Do you ever shut up? At least your husband has the good presence of mind to keep his thoughts to himself.” Andrew grumbled.
“Andrew. That’s rude.” Mary scolded. Andrew shrugged and looked at his water.
“If it wasn’t for you people, I wouldn’t sell a single bottle of that crap.”
Everyone turned to look at the new visitor.
Andrew grinned and pulled an empty chair from the neighboring table. “Larry! It took you long enough to get here.”
“Traffic.” A middle aged man plopped down in the chair and looked at the other three. “I know you. Mary right?”
“I haven’t seen you since the wedding!” Mary gushed.
“These two? Are they the… interns?”
Andrew sighed and nodded. “Yep. You set up?”
“Yeah.” Larry nodded. He glanced at Mary again. “I think the kids will keep Mary busy.”
“Busy?” Mary leaned into the conversation.
“Hubby didn’t tell you about the sleepover?” Larry grinned.
“When did you call him?” Mary looked at Andrew. He shrugged and smirked at Larry. Calling wasn’t necessary when it came to the NSA.
~ ~ ~
“This is highly irregular.” The information tech followed Jacob as he walked into the server room. “Nothing goes into the equipment without my approval.”
“Who is funding this equipment?” Jacob didn’t look at him as he walked down a row of rackmounted servers.
“Feds.” The IT frowned.
“Who am I?” Jacob found the server and pulled the drawer open and lifted the cover.
“That doesn’t mean you guys can waltz in here at any time to… to…” He looked over Jacob’s shoulder as Jacob powered the server down and removed a retainer for the computation cards.
“Actually, it does.” Jacob glanced over at the tech. “It’s been cleared by your boss.”
“Who pilots a desk. I’m the one down here taking care of these.” The technician crossed his arms.
“I’ll be sure to pass that on.” Jacob slid a card into an open slot and clamped the retainer back down.
“What is that for anyway?”
“It’s a dedicated DSP for processing the video streams more efficiently.” Jacob said as he slid the server back and hit the power button.
“Just one? What about the other servers?”
“This node handles the region we need more processing power.” Jacob walked to a workstation and pulled up a map of the servers. He typed in a command for new drivers to be installed into the server he had just modified and crossed his arms as he watched the process.
“That port is open. It has an open communication port.” The technician pointed.
Jacob looked at him sideways. “Are you going to be a problem?”
The technician licked his lips. “Anything that threatens the security of my servers is a problem.”
“That is fine if these were actually your servers.” Jacob grumbled. “As it happens, that node is hardware locked to a remote access server, has a triple method cascading encryption, a custom secure hash algorithm and three custom image based security keys. No middle-man access there and invulnerable to brute force cracking attempts.” He looked at the tech smugly. “Happy?”
The computer technician scowled and crossed his arms. “I want to run portmap tests on it.”
“Run all the tests you want. Just don’t interfere with this equipment.” Jacob shut down the workstation and turned around. “This is a matter of national security. If you tamper with it, bad things could happen to your career and perhaps even your freedom. Am I understood?”
The technician slumped a little. “If it crashes the other servers…”
“It won’t. Trust me. After all, I’m FBI.” Jacob grinned and patted the man on the shoulder. He sighed and stepped to the side as Jacob walked past him. He reluctantly followed as he wondered if a change in career might not be a bad idea.