The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice CXC – Waiting For Godot

And to continue with Aikiko…

A little research was easy enough… The train had been crossing Wolvertons Gorge in Colorado, headed for it’s next stop in Fort Collins. It had consisted of several passenger cars and an assortment of freight cars. The manifest listed… a selection of assorted exotic reagents for a research project at Colorado State University (a set of sealed crates, not individually described except for being noted as minimally hazardous, originating from a defense department laboratory), a selection of Indian relics reclaimed by a lawsuit being returned to the tribes to be reburied in rifled tribal graves (any supernatural importance was not, sadly, listed on the computer manifest for the train), several crates of old-style rifles (reproductions of early military rifles, from the Indian Wars period) for a re-enactment group, biological samples (sealed, not otherwise identified), and gold-veined black facade marble for some fancy building. It was supposed to be picking up… microbrews, refined silver, computers, solar panels, and waterproof smartphone cases. A solid majority of the passengers were university-related or escorting freight. It looked like… most people with money opted to fly in. No surprise there, it was a long hot trip on a train.

Well… the mine was going to be a minor shadowland – and she wasn’t all THAT well equipped for investigations in the underworld. Tracing the essence-users who’d tried to stop it would be a good trick given how little there was to go on. Next stop… Fort Collins, and some supernatural detection effects.

Fort Collins was a rather interesting place! She picked up a bicycle at the Bicycle Library – which was fine with an untraceable cash deposit (well within her current means) and provided a local GPS locator/map. Even better, the city was EXTREMELY bicycle-friendly! Very convenient! And really quite lovely!

So… the reagents might be tricky to check on if they were already at the laboratory – which was likely; there’d be no reason to delay delivery. What else was there around the place?

The National Institute of Standards and Technology time signal transmitters WWV and WWVB were nearby, as was the Roosevelt National Forest – and the Poudre Valley Hospital (that she hopefully would not need) provided a regional health care center.

Well, that was interesting, although likely less than vital.

The city itself hosted… the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation, the Human Genome Project, an Atmospheric Chemistry and Aerosol Laboratory, the Vectorbourne Illness Laboratory of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, a USDA Seed Lab Storage facility, Headquarters for SCUBA Schools International (SSI), a National Wildlife Research Center, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Western Regional Headquarters, and the University of Colorado.

Hm… those reagents had been addressed to the department of physics and chemistry, Professor Marnot – the Nanosecond Imaging Project.

Well, that shouldn’t be TOO bad to sneak into. Scientists tended to be more than a bit focused on their work, rather than on looking for possible magical spies.

Besides, that sounded intriguing… it was supposed to be imaging rapid chemical reactions mixed with neuroscience; they were trying to chart the activity of neural networks fast enough to trace the actual pathways involved in image-recognition and such to see how the brain actually worked. That would be worth a look even if she HADN’T had some business with the place!

The laboratory had a security guard – but it was one rather bored man, who spent most of his time directing wandering new students to the correct buildings. After all… few people really CARED all that much about this stuff! Easily Overlooked Presence Method it was, then, with the old clipboard and labcoat trick.

And the odds of someone being up to something had just gone WAY up! There was a well-concealed ward! Thaumaturgy, against detection – and according to the Coatl and Skoll it functioned… by diverting probes directed at the current building to an older version of the lab, torn down in 1928 but still existent in the underworld. That neatly provided results, and some reasonable-looking information, and even some activity – but concealed what was currently going on very nicely indeed! Someone… was quite clever! If she hadn’t walked through it while running essence-senses, she might never have noticed it; from just a few feet away, you just got the impression of some decrepit old-fashioned scientific types puttering around in a lab.

What was so important here as to require concealment like that?

Inside… there was a hell of a lot of complicated equipment, not to mention lots of samples of brain tissue. At the moment, a couple of researchers and some grad students were busily turning their equipment to the atomic-clock tick from the NIST transmitters to achieve the precision they needed for plotting thoughts moving through the brain!

Checking on the more detailed delivery manifest and looking things over with her (cloaked) investigative excellencies… It looked like about half the reagents were tissue-dyes, bioluminescent compounds, enzymes, and so on – used to make the reactions of the tissue more easily detected. The other half… were going into a graduate students lab, and were MUCH stranger stuff! Adrenaline, graveyard mold dust imbued with temporal energies, blood (greatly enriched with iron and apparently a mixture from many donors), neurotransmitters, ATP suspension, bone dust, and waters of lethe… Was somebody trying to raise the dead, or make their own Frankenstein? Didn’t they read their Mary Shelley? Or watch any of the movies? At least other than Young Frankenstein?

Wait, you could ORDER Waters of Lethe and the rest of that stuff as a part of a shipment of scientific reagents from the DEFENSE DEPARTMENT, and LIST THEM ON THE MANIFEST (even if it WAS the detailed one in the box rather than the public one), and no one paid attention? The Masons and thaumaturgical underground had to be a whole heck of a lot more active than she had EVER believed.

Of course… her FATHER had regularly dealt with magic, there were all those psychic power experiments the CIA was supposed to have run, psychic hotlines, astrology was a big business… Was the only thing keeping magic undercover a cultural assumption that getting involved with it – or just paying too much attention to it – was bad?

Which – for most mortals – was ALSO true.

Heh. So the Underworld and blood magic based assaults of WWII had simply left most of humanity unconsciously aware that even paying too much attention to the magical stuff was the equivalent of standing in a metallic bucket of water, wetting your finger, and sticking it into a powered-up light socket. No wonder so much stuff was just casually ignored. If you didn’t look at it, it might go away and leave you in peace! You saw it every day with people just… avoiding eye contact and going around “crazy” people on the street.

Blast it! It was just like YU-SHAN! She could probably stand on a streetcorner blazing with supernatural power and throwing explosions into the sky, and all she’d get would be a citation for illegal fireworks and creating a disturbance and some attention from the cranks who were too crazy to leave it alone! No wonder the Terrestrials were managing to cover things up… most of the population was quietly cooperating with them whether they knew it or not!

It looked like THAT lab was unusually magically active too – which was no surprise – but it was also Warded – this time against supernatural entities and with an alarm. Some very nice work there – but she had to admit that she counted as a supernatural entity. It was going to be tricky to disable it without triggering the alarm though. Still, she had Adenic Thaumaturgy and her Coatl (who had it too) to assist her…

It was still tricky – the caster was GOOD and she was well out of her specialties – but she managed to get rid of the alarm without triggering it eventually. After that, taking down the ward itself was fairly simple!

Even if it did require a lot of dice and bonus successes.

The laboratory looked normal enough visually. On the essence-side… it was actually functioning as a midrange manse, and had several areas available that didn’t exist for ordinary folk. Weirdly enough… Air Aspected. Not at ALL what she might have expected! Especially given those ingredients!

She kept a careful eye out. After all, at this point, any resistance was likely to be supernatural, and therefore not wanting this place exposed.

The obvious centerpiece of the main area that did not exist in normal space was a complex piece of electronic apparatus. It was surrounded by forty-six strange sculptures, apparently made of gold-plated platinum, each about three feet high and covered with countless tiny symbols that she needed to have Skoll turn up the magnification to make out. Twenty-two of them were paired, but there were two unique ones. They made up the outer border of a magical circle laid out on the floor. There was a minor artifact nearby – a perpetual power cell.

Hm. Some Sidereals used those in their cell phones and such – but this one was a good deal bigger and more powerful. It was also… connected to a dozen smartphones, each of which was sitting on a zodiac symbol in the inner part of the circle. There was another power cell for the mechanism in the center.

OK. This was WEIRD. The Smartphones seemed to be very minor (essentially merely being nigh-indestructible) artifacts in themselves, but were all basically just Samsung Galaxy Smartphones and components of the greater system. The mechanism at the center was pretty odd too; a sort of a sphere with crystal tubes sticking out all over it, a port showing an internal mechanism, and various wires. Part of it appeared to be a clock display too – and that might be some radio circuitry in there.

The clock display was digital – with rather a LOT of decimal places – and was mounted on a few support struts and some wires. It currently showed… “10.04.2014:03.14.12 – with another eighteen or so decimal places which were changing REALLY fast. Presuming that it was right… her watch was a couple of minutes off. It was counting up of course, the last eighteen digits or so too fast to see, and the one that seemed to be seconds at… one second per second.

OK, if this was all a project of some obsessive timekeeper trying to compare time in the Underworld to time in Creation or something, she was going to laugh SO hard.

According to various detection effects and her excellencies… the output… imposed some sort of essence-signal on radio waves that broadcast from the central mechanism and through the cell phones. Part of that modulation – the fine-tuning – came from the weird statues. The actual effect wasn’t yet in place – but seemed to involve some of those reagents and something to do with time.

Was that going faster around here? Then why match her watch reasonably well at all? And why would you need such precision?

Wait a moment… the Samsung Galaxy… Hadn’t Charles somehow given those things limitless range… A time standard for the universe perhaps?

The “Obsessive Timekeeper” theory was looking better and better, if it wasn’t just someone trying to study that effect. Looking for lag across the light years maybe? Trying to communicate with aliens? E.T. Phone Home? Nah… no need for the clock function with either of those.

Come to think of it, with this manse setup… was she even still ON Earth?

Ah. Yes and no. She was on the borders of the underworld – although not in it. Sort of between life and death. A shadowland of sorts. No wonder the place looked a bit old-fashioned – although that machine certainly looked up-to-date. The grad student probably wasn’t a ghost then.

Time for some deep analysis.

Traces of Wyld Thaumaturgy and Abyssal Energies. Some Necromancy. Also Energetics and Enchantment. Another Cauldron-Born? Well, she couldn’t blame an Abyssal for accepting Demien’s offer, although that HAD to have some awkward side effects.

No… it was just wyld thaumaturgy, not wyld charms. Still, someone was DEFINITELY fooling around with some oddities!

As for the sculptures… twenty-two paired, and two unique ones. All abstract spirals. The two that didn’t match looked rather like a cross and a an upside-down “Y”. Some kind of antenna? They did seem to have something to do with tuning. They were covered with tiny symbols though – somewhat stylized groups of letters: ALA, CYS, ASP, GLU, PHE, GLY, HIS, ILE, LYS, LEU, MET, ASN, PRO, GLN, ARG, SER, THR, VAL, TRP, and TYR.

What the hell?

OK, time to Google!

Peptides? That looked like DNA! So this student WAS trying to make a person, or at least an organism. No, definitely human; those matched human chromosomes – presumably accurate ones, given that the Human Genome Project was in town. But they were modulating a broadcast of some sort – which, for some reason, included an incredibly accurate clock and wyld thaumaturgy and something that needed intergalactic range and was being tuned with representations of human DNA.

And that an Abyssal was interested in… Perhaps it was Hubert Farnsworth’s Death Clock! After all… a world a lot like Futurama almost certainly DID exist someplace in the universe. More likely though… if it was being tuned with DNA, it might be some subtle working to alter people. It wasn’t ready to broadcast yet – but she knew the layout and the reagents and could ask some of the greatest occult experts in the universe for help.

It looked like the broadcast would be tuned specifically to humans (although that did cover an awful lot of “aliens”), using wyld thaumaturgy to attune human minds that were within reach of the broadcast and on the edge of death to the clock. It had probably originally been meant to tap into the time broadcasts from NIST and cover the earth, but now used the Smartphones to cover the universe instead. There was a secondary information-providing function, but what that was was buried in the machine since the broadcast was not currently going out.

An attempt to extend Lethe? Waters of it were among the reagents.

Well, Skoll DID have perfect stealth (barring physical contact) as long as you stood still. Why not hang around and ask or watch? It sounded as if someone was coming anyway. Blast. There must have been an electronic alarm as well as the magical one!

It looked like… a woman in her early 20’s, quite obviously an Abyssal. There was a rather careful search – but after it turned up nothing, the woman went back to installing various reagents. Rather single-minded there! Was this about ready to do whatever it did? Still, she didn’t seem at ALL hostile.

Watching the various reagents being installed allowed her occult advisers to find a solution; the broadcast would allow (but not force) dying human minds to operate on the zeptosecond time scales of the clock – and would inform them of their options; a smooth transition into Lethe or becoming a voluntary ghost (or, for those with the skill, taking over an animal body). You would, however, only have a few effective hours to think about it if your brain was being destroyed at the speed of light or something. Otherwise… you could basically take as long as you needed.

Huh. That was really rather benevolent! Likely a Daybreak, or possibly a Midnight. Time to reveal herself!

(Abyssal) “Hrrmph! I thought there was someone in here! One moment!”

She added the last reagents.

(Aikiko) “Oh, take your time.”

And the entire mess… sank into the floor as the Utility Artifact Suite for the manse was completed.

(Aikiko) “Whoa! So… why do you want everyone to know their options about their afterlife?”

(Abyssal) “So that it won’t be messy and random! It’s inefficient and intolerable! People need to die properly, and without all this insane, unnatural, attempts to keep a dying body alive! We’ve got ghosts handing about who don’t realize that they’re dead, others stuck in weird situations, people who would have wanted to be ghosts who don’t figure it out in time, people who can’t find the right way to go! There should be ORGANIZATION! Plenty of time to leave dream-messages and haunting impressions for family and friends on the way out BEFORE going straight to Lethe! The ability to voluntarily check out when it is time to go! And so on!”

(Aikiko, sighing) “Let me guess. Daybreak Caste?”

(Abyssal) “I never paid much attention to labels!”

(Aikiko) “Well, I’m not opposed, so I’ll keep quiet about this.”

(Abyssal) “Surprisingly sensible of you! So many of your sort are maniacs who believe that everything they do is heroic and right!”

Gah. Social Skills = Zero, natural talent for dealing with people… about as minimal as a human being could get. Rather like Charles when she’d first met him, but without his self-effacing way of fading into the background. It hadn’t even been MAGIC, he’d just… stood around being naive, and everyone just talked over him while he gave people what they needed… Aargh! Could this be some sort of… abyssal aspect of Charles? Like that bit about the Neverborn aspects of Primordials? Given that he was ALREADY being a quasi-primordial and had spawned a near-Ishvara aspect… And this one was… obviously… kind of focused on… manses and artificing…

Oh SURELY not!

(Aikiko) “Anyway… I came up here because of the train accident.”

Aikiko told her about it – although it was likely that she already knew; she’d been looking for someone who might have pulled a bridge out of the underworld to get the train through, and here she had an Abyssal who’d wanted the train to get through. Circumstantial, yeah, but it did seem pretty solid.

(Abyssal) “Hmph! Panicky Idiots! I couldn’t be having that! I may have to do something about them!”

(Aikiko) “What, talking about the ghosts in that mine?”

(Abyssal) “They need some straightening out, but it’s the local terrestrials who need to learn to behave!”

(Aikiko) “Oh? I can see how they’d be freaking out lately, what with all the weirdness going on.”

Unfortunately, the game was already overtime at this point. Investigation takes a good deal longer to play out than it does to summarize.

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