Wednesday, January 4, 2017

TPC - Ge, Prologue: Quake

[I mentioned that I have in my mind a series of stories in which super people turned to stone are turned back.  Ge is the only one I've touched on before, but the story of her being restored to life starts with someone else, thus this a prologue rather than Chapter 1.  I've cut out a fair amount that isn't relevant to Ge's story.]

The Petrification Chronicles - Ge
Prologue: Quake

Reality shattered just long enough for Des to pass through, she pulled her head into her right shoulder, narrowly avoiding being hit by the ground, converted her momentum into a half roll, and landed hard on her back.

She cursed shadow dimensions in various languages even though she knew that it was safer dealing with the horrors there than it would have been to travel here via earthbound routes.  She took a deep breath, slowly stood up, and said, “This better be worth it,” to no one in particular.

Then she began her trudge to the mine-shaft where she'd meet the others.

* * *

Before she got to the chamber where she was supposed to meet everyone, Des saw Quake.  All other concerns were forgotten.  She said, “Id Tech,” as something between a greeting and an exclamation and rushed at the girl.  Quake responded with, “Demon Breath!” and ran to meet Des halfway.  They collided into a long hug.

When Des finally disengaged she looked around, spotted, Echelon, and said, “I thought you were going to wait for me to get here, Esh.”

“We are,” Echelon said.  “She's not our Quake.”

Des looked Quake over and then said, “Whose Quake is she?”

“It's an inter-dimensional thing,” Particulate said.  Des knew of no dimensions that would have their own Quake, but when Particulate said something like that you didn't argue with him.  He'd be the one to know.

“I know you're not my Desdemona,” Quake said, “but may I hug you again?”

Des looked at not-their-Quake.  Hope and sadness weren't just in her eyes, they radiated from her.  The sadness was stronger.  Des nodded.

Quake hugged her again.  This time she spoke, “This won't mean anything to you but: I missed you so much, and you were always my friend, and there's no truer love than that, and I wish I could have saved you.”

Then Quake released her.

“If that pointless gesture is finished,” Particulate said, he always could be counted on to deliver a romanticized perspective, “we should work as quickly as possible.”

Particulate led the way to Quake's chamber, and yes-their-Quake still sat frozen in stone, both hands on the rock beneath her, her face a picture of strained concentration.

Substrate was setting up equipment.  She looked up at the sound of their footsteps.

“Almost done here,” she said to Particulate. “It'll be all yours in a second.”

Des surveyed the equipment.

“These are all sensors,” she said.  “How are you actually planning to bring her back?”

Echelon pointed to not-their-Quake.

“We've tried earth elementals before,” Des said.  “No results.  It failed on Ge too many times to keep track of years before Quake went stone.”

“We've tried other elementals,” Echelon said.

That was when Des finally realized why not-their-Quake had merited enough hope to call her as an observer.  “You think that since she's the same person--”

“Technically ninety seven point three percent the same person,” Substrate said.

“That's impossible given the number of chromosomes human beings have,” Des said.  And then she immediately realized the answer: “Homologous recombination.”

Substrate nodded.  “Best guess.”  She turned to Particulate, “I'm done here.  Your turn.”

Particulate started to set up sensors of his own while Substrate moved toward Des and the others.

“If this does work,” Substrate said to Des, “do you think we'll be able to learn how to reverse the process without a duplicate from another dimension?”

Des thought it over.  “That depends a great deal on how it works.  We know next to nothing about petrification.  There are only eight confirmed cases and no confirmed reversals.”

“Eight?” Quake asked.

“There are a total of four girls, three boys, and one neither,” Des said.  “One of the other girls is a close friend of mine.”

“I don't even know if I can save your Quake,” Quake said.  “I don't want to give false hope for any of the others.”

“I've been trying to save my friend for seven years,” Des said, “more or less.  At this point I will take any kind of hope.”  She looked around.  “But, before that, I need to take blood.  It'll need to be willingly shed from three different hosts.  I make one.”

“Not it,” Particulate said without even looking up from what he was doing.

“It's not like we have many options,” Echelon said with overtones of disturbed resignation.  “We don't want Quake at less than a hundred percent and--”

“We could--” Substrate said.

“No, I'm not that squeamish,” Echelon said.  “I'll give.”  Then she locked eyes with Des and said, “Just make it count.”

“That is the plan,” Des said, looking at the chamber floor, trying to work out the ideal symbols and placements.  “There is something more to think about before you agree.”  Des started laying down a large circle of salt.  “The knife we'll need to use is special.”

“Of course it is,” Echelon said.

“It will slow down the healing process significantly,” Des said.  Circle almost done she started looking to where lines would need to be drawn.  “The process isn't dangerous provided you remember to keep disinfecting the wound until it is well and truly closed,” she'd want a seven pointed star that wasn't quite symmetrical, a pentacle touching the concave vertices.  “It will, however, be extremely vexing.”

“Still in,” Echelon said, “and you know that Sub didn't even have a second thought.”

Des looked at Substrate and saw Echelon was correct.

* * *

Someone else, a girl that Des vaguely recognized as being from some League-sanctioned young adult team or other, came in about a minute and a half after Des had completed the magical preparations.  Apparently she wasn't going to be used until later, something about repaying not-their-Quake by saving her world.

It didn't involve trying to free yes-their-Quake from her stone state, so Des didn't care.  Soon she wouldn't have the attention to spare.

Not-their-Quake announced she was ready, and so Des called for blood.  She cut her left palm with the special knife, then gave it to Substrate who did the same.  Echelon followed suit.  All bleeding, Des and the other two made their way to spots she had shown them earlier and let their blood drop on the floor.

Soon enough blood had been given and Des moved to the center of the circle while the other two went to a waiting med-kit.

Not-their-Quake said, "Ok, here goes," and Des gave the pulse of magic necessary to start the prepared spells.

* * *

Seeing magic was a rare gift, one which Desdemona had not received.  Seeing it in such detail one could understand exactly what happened and, hopefully, replicate it afterward required a sprawling complex of spells that altered almost every part of how one sensed and interacted with the outside world.

The visual acuity to see minute interactions, the scope to see the overall picture, a strange and twisted relationship with time needed to be able to process all that happened, being able to see all sides of many objects at once, the ability to--

Des collapsed to the ground from sensory overload the moment not-their-Quake started to work, though the ground took a very long time to actually make contact with her.  Her eyes instinctively squeezed shut, but it made no difference, she still saw everything.  She saw it all, and the seeing hurt.

When she forced her eyes back open a second pair opened with them.

Control.  She needed control.  Only four eyes, not six; she hadn't lost control yet.  A glance down showed her fingers didn't end in talons.  She had no sense of color right now, but her skin didn't feel red.

She cursed herself for diverting her attention to her body.  There was something more important for her to watch.

Dirty tendrils with a vaguely peat-like wisp extended from not-their-Quake to yes-their-Quake.

There were words.  What was sound, really?  Was it even real?

Sounds.  Words.  They might matter.  Desdemona forced herself to interpret these strange and foreign things.  So unlike all else that existed right now.

They were fast, or was that slow?  She couldn't translate them.  There was no sense.  Sound was a lie.

There was no sound.  Only magic.  Air, and the disturbance thereof, was a distraction from the earth magic she needed to watch.  But still: sounds.  Words.

Some part of Desdemona knew that words had meanings, and meanings governed intentions, and intentions shaped magic, and magic was real.  Magic was all that there was.

She forgot the sounds and sought out meanings.  This she had inherited.  If she could find the source of the meanings, then she merely had to look and the meanings would be clear.

Not-their-Quake.  Not-their-Quake was spouting meaning.  It took only a fraction of Desdemona's attention to feel the failure, the sadness, the anxiety.

Was it failure?

Dirty peaty tendrils connected the two Quakes, and in yes-their-Quake something hummed in response.  Something more than a soul trapped within a stone.

Some part of Desdemona felt triumph, but the tendrils were weakening and the humming grew softer.

Meanings.  Failure.

The meaning was a failure, believed but not actually real.  She had to change the meaning or the magic would stop.


Such great pain she felt Athena might burst forth from her skull.

She had to words, but there were no words.  There was no sound.  How did one words? Meaning.  All flowed from meaning.  Meaning was existence.  Meaning shaped intention, intention shaped magic, magic shaped reality, reality was meaning.

Meaning was "stop".  Meaning had to be "go".  She had to words.

Another wave of pain.

Sounds in order.  Words were sounds in order.  She had to produce sounds in order but it hurt to think of sounds.  It hurt so much.  Sounds in order.  Air pushed from mouth.  This was possible once.  A moment ago?  A thousand years?

She pushed through the pain and tried to transmit the meanings using sounds in order by pushing air.  “Don't stop.  Working.”

The tendrils grew strong again.  The pain subsided as Desdemona stopped trying to understand strange things like sound and words.  All was magic.  All was seen without light, heard without sound, smelled and tasted without molecules, felt without touch.

Ages passed and she stopped being Desdemona.  She was an observer without self.  She was the magic, the bodies, the tendrils, the change, the stability, the humming.

And she was becoming two people where once there had been but one.  Earth gave way to quintessence as a body became soft and animated.

Like a glacier the change would not be deterred and all that opposed it was ground into oblivion.  Quake and statue became Quake and Quake.

The tendrils withered and died.  One of the Quakes collapsed.

The spell ended.

* * *

She was Desdemona again.  She saw light, she heard pressure waves in air called 'sound', she smelled and tasted molecules, she felt contact.  She had a headache that she could never hope to describe.  She wasn't even looking in the direction of the Quakes, but a flop over showed that they were both flesh and blood.

She would need to meditate on what she had experienced, need to learn if it could be reproduced, but for now she had a largely unrelated sentiment: “Ow, pain.”

“Are you alright?” Substrate asked while rushing to her side.

“I'll live,” Desdemona said.  “How is Quake?”

“Her vitals are good,” Echelon said, “It'll be a while before we know anything more.”

“Whatever the outcome,” not-their-Quake said to Des, “it's as much your doing as mine.  I was going to give up.”

Particulate said, “Woo!” in the flattest voice he could manage --which Des thought fell short of a proper deadpan-- and then added, “We really do need to hurry if we want to go to her dimension,” he pointed at not-their-Quake, “liberate her world, come back, and close off the rift before there's irreversible catastrophic instability.”

“This is what you're here for,” Echelon said to the one who had come just before they started.

Substrate helped Des to her feet.  Echelon looked at Des and asked, “Can you get Quake and yourself to our infirmary?”

Des nodded.  She stumbled to yes-their-Quake, allowed herself to fall to her knees beside yes-their-Quake, and opened a portal just as she heard the one she didn't know, the late comer, call someone to say she might be a while.

* * *

Des stayed until yes-their-Quake was awake.

In that time not-their-Quake's world was liberated, sort of.  From what little Des had bothered to pick up, the totalitarian regime was extremely centralized, all that was needed to topple it was the removal of a single individual.  Picking up the pieces afterward would be the hard part, but they'd closed the rift and thus not-their-Quake and her world were on their own on that front.

Particulate said it would be a year, at least, before the dimensional barrier was recovered enough to risk opening another rift.  If not-their-Quake was still alive then, there was a planned reunion.  Des would look forward to that, but she had other matters of greater import than the fate of a world.

What she had observed while the one Quake had restored the other would take strenuous analysis, and she had no way of communicating the raw data she had collected to anyone else; it existed only in her memory.  It would require long meditation to form into coherent knowledge.

The data collected by Substrate and Particulate would likewise require much analysis before it could be of any use.  At least they could share it with others.

Still, someone had finally been freed from stone.  That was progress.  It had been recorded in three different ways.  This was the most hope for saving Ge and the others that there had been in what seemed like forever.

Des' initial assessment of yes-their-Quake, after she herself had succumbed to and recovered from exhaustion, was that her physical state appeared to be similar to power exhaustion.

When yes-their-Quake woke up, the assessment seemed confirmed.  No memory loss, no unpleasant side effects, just extreme fatigue which the testing of her power exacerbated.

With that information in hand, and some kind words to various people, Des headed home.

* *
* * *
* *

Ok, so, stuff that got cut out because it wasn't part of this story:

The team featured is in super-unfriendly territory.  They remain free as long as they remain useful.  One of the perks is that they get to oversee how their villains are treated.  Under law super people have no rights in this area, which means that the team is the only thing standing between the bad guys and stuff that no one (including bad guys) should ever have inflicted upon them.

They're also the only ones standing between good and neutral people and such things, but they have to be more circumspect about that.

The cis-dimensional Quake falls into the villain category.  She was a traitor who was working for someone who believed that only death could bring an end to suffering, and life was a mistake that should be removed from as many as possible.  She was convinced at the last minute to avert the catastrophe she'd been causing, but it took all of her power and she ended up stone.

Since the team can oversee how their villains are treated, and their Quake is classed as a villain, it's in their power to simply forgive her and not punish her at all.  Which is what they do.

The team is:

Raptor - Not present in this story since the mine would have triggered nem badly.  Ne's the leader.  Ne has wings.  The right wing ends at the "elbow" because ne was born that way.  Everything else that separates nir body from "normal" is a result of growing up in a place that doesn't believe ne has a right to exist.

In public Raptor presents as female because it's not safe to be genderqueer and ne does lean towards feminine.

Echelon (Esh) - She's part human being and part distributed AI.  Often times she doesn't have to hack computers because a piece of her is already on them.  Bits of her are on nearly every networked computer in the team's territory.  Plus some bordering regions, just in case.

Substrate (Sub) - Chemist, amateur mundane scientist in as many relevant areas as she can muster, and able to turn her body into any material she touches.  She keeps samples of various useful materials in her pockets so that she can touch them when the need arises.

Particulate (Part) - He studies exotic physics, the more it seems to contradict the world known to science, the more interested he is.  Amoung other things this has allowed him to build a suit that gives him short range teleportation, inertial weakening, and stuff like that.

Quake (Id-Tech, FPS) - Four people was always a small team, especially since Raptor's past trauma forces her to sit some missions out.  An earth elemental was a very welcome addition.  The team didn't ask many questions, they're not the sort to talk about the past.

She was working for one of the team's most persistent enemies, a nihilist who believes that killing is freeing people from an unjust world.  It wasn't hard to convince her of the unjust part.

The other members of the team were her first friends, and when she did make more it was through the team.  Even so, she almost went through with the plan.  The amount of power needed to stop the plan at so late a stage, combined with her belief that as a traitor she didn't deserve to live, resulted in her turning to stone.

- - -

The other individual who showed up but went undescribed is Melissa from this story, she's necessary to the liberating the other world plan because the plan is basically this:

Wait, no, background first.

Other dimensional Echelon took over her world.  As a highly sophisticated AI distributed across every computer on the planet, she has the power to micromanage everything, and she does.  That makes her indispensable to her regime and means removing her removes the entire command and control structure of the regime.

The plan is for cis-dimensional Echelon to take her on in the electronic realm and force her into a limited geographical area which trans-dimensional Quake can then destroy.  The massive flaw with the plan is that the moment the other Echelon recognized the threat she'd isolate the compromised parts of the network.  Melissa can override all necessary electronics and thus stop cis-dimensional Echelon from being locked out.

- - -

If previous interactions between Des and Raptor were actually written, it might be notable that this is when Des finally surrenders in an argument they've had every time they've met.  Des wants Raptor to take her team somewhere where they'll have rights.  She sees staying in dangerous territory as a stupid and unnecessary risk.  Raptor won't consider leaving (though if any members of her team wanted to wander to safer pastures, she wouldn't stop them.)

Raptor does help get other people to safer territories.  She always tries to make sure that visiting heroes from states or nations where super people have rights, like Des, take ordinary people --who are persecuted for having powers-- with them when they leave.

- - -

In her demonic form Des has red skin, six eyes, and so forth.


  1. Your world is detailed and fascinating and I can't wait to see more of it!

    1. Thanks. It feels really good to read you saying that.