Back in Inversion, hiding from the hydrocarbon rain in an abandoned town, Gerald was busy running an illicit satellite link to try and tap into the local networks… Their security was good, but not really up to Core standards.
The current big news on the local networks was the reports on the war in space. Apparently the third Space Elevator had fallen to rebel hands leaving only the fourth and final elevator in the hands of the United Humanity Federation. The rebels seemed to be primarily Lunar, although reports of asteroids being moved into Earth Sphere orbit were mixed and rather confused.
(Marty) “Oooh, a rebel alliance . . . considering this place, though, they might be just as bad as the people in charge.”
(Kevin) “I doubt it; It was “God” who was getting to be in charge according to what information we could get.”
(Marty) “Think we should get in touch?”
(Kevin) “Lets see what else we can get first. I’d at least like to know who was issuing the propaganda.”
Hmm… It looked like the propaganda was being issued by the Official News Network for the United Humanity Federation – apparently a state-run media corporation. Tuning into illegal satellite signals was a capitol offense. Public service announcements would interrupt everything when the Orbital Bombardment alarms went off. The atmosphere had not responded well to the latest efforts from geo-engineering; the oxygen content was dropping and the hydrocarbon content was growing. The ice caps had completely melted, and the last major ecology preserve had died off. The state media was pleased to report, however, that extensive genetic samples had been collected and could be used to restore the ecology once the planet was under control again. Finally, there was a debate ongoing as to whether or not the Lunar Rebels were being supported by Manifold agents.
(Kevin) “Well, we definitely have a repressive government…” (And to himself… Gah! I’m dealing with small children everywhere! Infinite room available, and they’re AWARE OF IT, and they STILL INSIST ON FIGHTING over RUINED REAL ESTATE. Am I going to have to separate the entire human race!?! OK, they might not like change, but what part of “free!” didn’t they get? While a dictatorship wouldn’t want people able to come and go – they’d go and never come back – it was STILL STUPID! Why was it that EVERYWHERE they went was full of suicidal idiots? Had Teacher actually changed the human race THAT much?)
(Marty) “Hmm. We can’t mess around here. Did we ever determine where the nearest settlement was?”
(Kevin) “Not yet – and I suspect that there won’t be any up-to-date maps available and that asking for one is asking for a trace as a suspected spy or military intrusion. After all, they’re fighting an orbital war.”
(Marty) “What was that countermeasure? Couldn’t have been anything good if this is the result.
The nearest still-occupied settlement was Los Vegas; it seemed that only the cities where orbital bombardment bunkers – graciously constructed by their “Lord and God” – were available were still inhabited.
About the only other tidbit of interest in the news was the scheduled trial for a suspected Manifolder accused of spying – although there was lots of propaganda material on the air (half of it absurdly religious in tone) regarding this so-called “god” and his greatness and loads of other adjectives.
(Marty) “Ugh! Sounds like those accounting textbooks I read bits of in business school!”
Kevin sighed. Three-to-one that manifold traveler was someone they’d met. They hadn’t heard from Spellweaver, Shayan, or that Praetorian girl in quite some time, and the universe did seem to work that way half the time.
Oh, Gerald had found out what geo-engineering had been up to; they’d been attempting to release enzymes to break up the hydrocarbons in the atmosphere into water and carbon dioxide. They had then planned to release engineered algae to turn the carbon dioxide back into oxygen.
Whaaa…? OK, he was no chemist, but that made no sense! That lost energy and used more oxygen then it could possibly supply and was working directly against the energy gradient! Why not engineer algae that released oxygen and sequestered hydrocarbons?
OK… Supposedly the enzyme design did not account for the increased levels of UV in the atmosphere and the malformed enzyme then proceeded to break down certain organic compounds into simpler hydrocarbons.
Right. That had to have been cellulose.
(Marty) “Well that sounds like shoddy research or a rushed project. Considering local political conditions, I’d bet on the latter.”
(Kevin, thoughtfully) “Or someone wants to make the entire population totally dependent on his beneficience and to have no other chance of survival. After all, if “God” actually wanted to be helpful, he could do it in a lot of ways.”
The lead scientist involved had been officially forgiven by God for his mistake. He would no longer be working on climate engineering and had gone into early retirement. He would be provided with comfortable living arrangements in exchange for his years of dedicated service.
OK. The mess was deliberate. Even for a pull-yourself-up-out-of-the-chaos setting, that seemed a bit extreme. According to the source material, the original realm was heading towards limited ecological restoration supported by massive geo-engineering projects designed to maintain most of the major feedback loops. While the ecology would not be self sustaining for many centuries – until the very end of the series – the sealed human habitats would continue to grow throughout the stories. Political unity had NOT been a feature of the setting; the closest it had ever gotten was a Council of Federated States, vaguely reminiscent of the old UN Security Council.
Well, that was a pretty familiar pattern really. Most likely the Linear Realms would be blamed for supporting the rebels, the displaced and desperate population would be funneled through to attack there, and “god” would turn what was left into a private domain.
Meanwhile the storm is clearing overhead. The night sky is coming into view… They could see two strands of light to the South reaching into the sky, and large blobs of light hanging in the air. The Moon was covered in glittering lights indicating human settlements. The sky was also very “glittery”.
(Marty) “Wonder what those strands of light are? Transport? Communications?”
(Kevin) “Orbital elevators – and a lot of orbital debris.”
(Marty) “Wow. How could we get access to those? They’re supposed to be pretty fast, right?”
(Gerald) “In theory, access could be obtained by reaching one of the two endpoints or the midpoint depending on the design. The speed also depends on the design; the biggest advantage is the sheer cargo capacity and the cost per pound of putting something in orbit.”
(Marty) “We’ll definitely have to look into that. We might need to know where those are later, and how fast they are. And somehow I get the feeling that just leaping down from orbit isn’t going to work.”
(Kevin) “Oh well. At least they didn’t try to implement the orbital wheel-scoop approach. Apparently even the locals weren’t crazy enough to try to build a scoop that rotated down through the atmosphere, drew energy from the rotation of the earth, scooped things up, and then – at the other end – launched the stuff.
(Kevin) “Gerald? Any details on the Manifold spy? I have a feeling that catching someone like that will be considered quite a coup.”
It seemed that two people had been caught in the incident; one was a young preteen female and the other was an adult male displaying unusual powers. They were found snooping around one of the European Arcologies and trying to make a run for a gateway nearby. Luckily, the security services had been able to overpower them both and take them into custody. The gateway had since been placed under heavy guard. The preteen had been sent for psychological counseling while the adult had been “interrogated”. He had “confessed” to spying and sabotage, had pleaded not guilty in front of the judge, and was awaiting trial and sentencing now.
(Marty) “Which arcology? It’s going to be hell getting there.”
It had been the Berlin Arcology.
Well, it would be leaping to an incredibly unjustified conclusion – but that could be a pair they hadn’t seen in quite some time.
(Xellos) “Well this is certainly a dreary place. Even we monsters prefer a little variation to our psychic energies.”
(Marty) “Yeah, tell me about it. The Crusader Kingdoms were livelier than this.”
(Kevin) “Well, Los Vegas or Berlin?”
(Marty) “If those travelers aren’t anybody we know, we could take them on as employees for saving them… Berlin then?”
(Xellos) “So any plans? Rescue the accused Manifolders, try to get into touch with the Rebels, or just cause enough chaos to split the realm into two?”
(Marty) “While I’d like to take you up on that, Xellos, I’m not sure even WE could cause enough chaos before they blasted us home.”
(Kevin) “I’m tempted to just split the place. If it hasn’t already, it can only be because someone is pouring a lot of power into holding it together.”
(Xellos) “True, I can sense a lot of power flowing into the very air around here.”
(Marty) “Uh oh. I hope ‘God’ isn’t all-seeing and all-knowing.”
(Xellos) “If it is this “god” they speak of that is holding things together, it implies a disturbing level of power.”
Kevin probed… they were out in the Manifold far enough… were they within a gate at the moment? Someone could be overlapping the original and split-off realm by just putting the whole place in a gate. Out of core you might even not need gatekeepers to hold such a thing – particularly with two alternate versions of the same realm.
No… It had been a good guess, but that wasn’t it; it looked like there was a mana suppression effect going on. It might be related to the barrier seal around the Crusader Kingdoms, although it seems to be more focused than that was. Thus, the mana that would normally split the realm in two was suppressed, and the realm remained stable – although it was pretty obvious that someone was pouring a heck of a lot of power into maintaining that suppression effect.
So, guess two; if you tried to use mana, you have to spend lots extra, which went to their flawed opener. With a world full of people desperate to escape, he or she now had a power battery. The local population may be or have been mostly ensouled, and he or she didn’t want people to leave. That seemed to fit everything he could sense anyway… As for pouring in the power… He had to wonder whether the local power-signature was anything like the Sunwell?
Indeed it was. Very similar. Well, if you wanted to hold a realm and turn millions of souls into a power battery, you’d need an awful lot of magic.
(Xellos) “So how would you suggest splitting the place? Import nukes and start taking out cities? Or pulling on those reserves of yours and trying to overpower this suppression effect? Or something even more chaotic?”
(Kevin) “Hey, we seem to be appointed forces of chaos; we just do whatever comes to mind and the disasters happen!”
(Marty) “Hmm… well, Kevin could get some nukes from Kadia, but I’m pretty sure ‘God’ would notice a power signature on the same level as it. Probably best to stick with reserves. But if we REALLY want to get flashy, a jailbreak in Berlin might do it.”
(Kevin) “We may be approaching the center of things. A lot of bits and threads seem to come together here… (To Gerald) Any images on those manifold spies?”
Gerald did his best to oblige… There was nothing on the official networks, but there was quite a bit on the satellites supported by the Lunar Rebels. Lots of video provided by people with cameras uploading to the Rebel network. The biggest bit was a satellite view of the battle with commentary. Images of both the preteen and the adult resembled Spellweaver and his youthful praetorian friend from Greenwald. It still might be different people, or it might be differences in appearances due to taking a local identitiy.
(Marty) “Huh. They weren’t with the House, were they?”
Oh well. Given their luck…
(Kevin) “No, that was Spellweaver and a young lady we promised to keep an eye out for.”
(Marty) “Well, we made a promise. Guess we have to bail them out, which will probably mean a lot of shooting and exploding.”
(Kevin) “And if this is where the power from the Sunwell went, and Spellweaver was also from Baelaria, and was opposed to that project, it’s not terribly unlikely that he would wind up here. Well, that’s probably a reason to go to Berlin – but that’s going to be quite a trip in Ultralights.”
(Marty) “Yeah, it is. I don’t think there’d be local air vehicles just lying around, either.”
The performance characteristics of Core Ultralights were pretty good, but they weren’t all that impressive from a world travel perspective. Crossing an ocean and two continents was going to be quite a little odyssey.
(Kevin) “Great. I don’t think the local transport will be too agreeable – and the local authorities will be coming already if they’ve detected the computer taps. Lets head for the fourth-nearest city, and run shadowweave to cloak ourselves and the power output.”
That would be Seattle, and they’d keep an eye out for pursuers.
(Kevin) “With any luck, we can get out of here before they can narrow the search area too much; I think we’ve been running an unauthorized satellite link. Hard to locate at ground level.”
Marty took some pics along the way – the sky was weird, but impressive – but it wasn’t long before a radar scan from orbit passed over them and focused in on their position before fading out. Nothing else really showed up on their sensors though, the cloak had diffused it some, and the radar signature of their ultralights was pretty negligible anyway – especially given this atmosphere. Still, they might well have been spotted.
(Kevin) “Everyone, collapse the ultralights, telekinetic boost; we should be able to maintain 3-4 G’s of push for several minutes – and the collapsed ultralights will drop the signature to our own bodies. Switch to eighth closest target. Keep up the shadowweave and someone with that ability leave an illusion of the ultralights still potting along”
OK, now they were looking at Dallas.
The landscape slowly passed by beneath them. Looking at the familiar, yet dead, terrain was disconcerting to say the least; it was hard to imagine humans having such a negative impact on the environment even with the evidence right in front of them. For the most part, it was utterly desolate… They passed a high-speed rail line on the ground as they passed through Colorado, but it was almost the only thing that moved… Soon enough, they entered Texas and the large flat expanses of the midwest.
As they approached Dallas, they could see the lights of the arcology lighting up the sky from a hundred miles away. The place towered into the sky, and they could see multiple rail lines connecting to the city with trains coming and going constantly.
Huh. So much for “Orbital Bombardment”, unless it was strictly limited to purely military targets – and with this environment, how many of those would there really be?
(Kevin) “Now, how to arrive without simply announcing ourselves?”
(Marty) “I wonder how well guarded the cargo trains are?”
(Kevin) “Given that there’s currently a war on and the place has a theocratic dictatorship…”
(Marty) “Yeah, that won’t work.”
Well, there were some outskirts. There were quite a lot of industrial and city maintenance facilities located outside the arcology itself, and it looked like some of those areas were even connected to the city using roads inside air tubes and tunnels. Others looked to be using old roads and airlock gates at the arcology.
(Marty) “Maybe take one of the older roads? They might be less important and more lightly guarded.”
(Kevin) “And there we go. We’ll probably need to whip up some phony ID’s, but that’s what hypnotism, illusion, and Jedi Mind Tricks are all about!”