A.C.E. IN THE HOLE
Previously: Ranma 1/2, Part 2
Themesong: Man in the Mirror by Michael Jackson
Woke up to the phone ringing, grabbed it despite how infrequently this happens. Normally if someone wants me they just wander into my bedroom and poke me until I’m awake. At this point, I think the only companion who hasn’t seen me naked in multiple forms is the baboon that took Evil Me’s place. Really should do something with it, besides give it a complete physical and a set of baboon specific inoculations. It’s very confused, but fairly well behaved… though that may be because it senses that everyone here is way more dangerous than it is.
Speaking quietly so as not to wake either Hibiki, I said “Hulo?”
The Boss’s voice said, “You like fixing things, don’t you? Tried to fix the gang problem in LA before you ran for the hills. Fixed the Reapers and saved Earth. Fixed the Malfoy Boy and saved a bunch of lives. Even fixed up that nasty love-polyhedron in Ranma’s World.”
I couldn’t tell if the boss was annoyed or amused, or both, so I decided to be honest. “I like making things better. I’d think anyone would. You’d like if I was more self serving, more self involved? Only in it for the fat loot and seducing all the hotties?”
“I’m all for seducing the hotties. You should do that way more.” I blushed, remembering once again that the Boss could see everything I did, then I reminded myself, the Boss could see everything everyone did in every Universe, in theory. He continued, “You do have a tendency to try and save the day. One might think you have a bit of a hero complex.”
“Bored of my antics?”
“Not remotely, just wondering if this is going to be a pattern. You taking your obsessive knowledge of setting details and running around Quantum Leaping them.”
I laughed at that “I certainly hope so. Send me to LoTR land and I’ll freaking fly Frodo to Mount Doom on RayRay’s back and end the Ring War in 20 minutes.”
“Riiight. Just asking. Hope you have fun in your next jump then.”
I cocked an eyebrow. He sounded… smirky. “Wait… you sound smug… you’re up to something. What’s my next setting? Mad Max? Dinosaurs? Transformers: War for Cybertron?” I said, naming off the first three non-zombie settings I could think of where things were essentially doomed regardless of anything I could do at my current power-level. Reverse Desertification across an entire planet and rebuild human civilization? Hah. Stop an ELE level meteor (size of Texas) Impact? Not likely. Stop the Autobots and Decepticons from trashing their homeworld? Yeah, me and what army.
“No… Even Better! Bastion!”
“What the heck is Bastion?”
“I’ll send you a link.”
“You’re sending me to a setting I’ve no knowledge of? What Am I supposed to… A Link?” I twitched as the trailer flashed across my mind. Well, that was new and faintly unpleasant. “So, it’s after the apocalypse and all the remaining landmasses are floating about in midair and the world is slowly dying and this Bastion is the last remaining city?”
“Yup! Good luck fixing it, hero!” The line went dead and I groaned.
Slipping out of the bed, I made my way to the Vending Machines, noticing that there was a pamphlet stuck in the pamphlet display now. It seemed to be an add for a destination called “Imaginary Friend”. I plucked it up, delaying having to face the VMoDs and Bastion-Verse a few more moments. The pamphlet was for something called a Sidejump, like a regular jump but apparently available for companions I decided not to bring with me into a Jumpworld… useful since I was now over the 8 Companion limit. Still, it looked like about as much fun as having one’s gums extracted. Stuck with a single child for company for an entire week sounded like torture. Longer than that? I don’t think so.
Regardless, I tossed the pamphlet back and walked over to the machines. Backgrounds… good place to start… Caelondian, Ura, Wild… I don’t know what any of these mean… Probably best to go with Drop-In… all the others look like they hate each other. Course, that could just mean everyone would hate me… eh, Free is good. First time I’ll be using my default body I guess. Haven’t been a Drop-In per se since Pokemon Trainer, my very first jump. And that was before I went through the Body Mod process. Would I look like I did in PokeWorld? Or the warehouse default I used, which was much closer to my original form, just better? I guess I’d see.
Perks… Dulcet Tones? Seriously? A Narrator’s voice inside my head? Look, I’m a big fan of narration, but the idea of having someone actually narrate everything I do for decade is really creepy. But, I have to remind myself, I’m hitting this world nearly cold and I can, in extremis, turn off Mr. Chatty. And, of course, it was free. Free is good.
Just Foolin’ [100/1000] will keep me from plummeting to my death… lovely… I freaking hate this setting already. I’m not super scared of heights or anything. I’ve flown many times on RayRay or my broomstick. I’ve even been hanggliding a time or two. I’m just not fond of dropping. Or the bit at the end, to be brutally honest. It’s a complete waste of Choice, a fear reaction, but I pay it, reluctantly. At least it’s on sale.
Okay, what’s next? A Shield, a Crossbow, or an Egg? Wait, those sound like gear… where’s the rest of the choices? Where’s the rest of the list? All it says next is “Good Luck Fixing It” . Haha. Great. I get my pick of 1 ability, 1 weapon, 1 defensive item, or a pet. That’s it? Funny. Going in cold and I have no idea what abilities i’m getting, what supplies I have at my disposal, no idea what disadvantages I’ll be at. Fine. Screw it. Accept.
I drop into the void, into darkness, then slam onto asphalt, my head ringing, my knees aching, the smell of gasoline and exhaust and oppressive racism are all around. I know this smell. This is LA. This… isn’t right. I shake my head, pushing myself to my feet. Bullets spang off the wall besides me as a black woman in a cop uniform pulls me down behind an old brown Chevy Nova. “Get down Sam!” she snaps.
“Don’t tell me what to do.” I grumble, fumbling for my gun. I don’t have a gun. Why don’t I have a gun? Where the hell am I? Why the hell am I here? I’m too old for this shit. Wait, what? Oh… right… memories. I rack my memories for some context, but there’s nothing. There’s a space for something, the familiar blanket of a personality overlay, but it’s not there. Instead there’s just a feeling of general age and crankiness.
I look down at myself. Old white hands, flat male chest, long limbs, brown leather jacket, terrible 80s style patterned shirt. Brown leather pants. Brown leather shoes. Tweety Bird socks. “Get off my Lawn.” I mutter, for no apparent reason.
“What’s that, Sam?” the cop asks
“Where’s my gun?”
“You turned it in when you retired. Don’t you remember?”
“No. Give me yours.”
“Don’t be silly, just stay down until backup arrives.”
“I am backup. Give me your…” I pause, then turn around, opening a portal in the pavement behind me. Not a big one, but big enough for my hand. “Accio Victoria.” I mutter, and my wand flies to my hand, wrapped in Victoria’s strange combination of magic and science from a half dozen realities. I pull up my HUD, the integrated hypervisor sliding Magitek Omni-Gel lenses over my eyes, and ask for a list of all Earth Model handguns in the Warehouse…
“Sam, what you doing?”
I ignore her, having found what I was looking for. I’d taken it off a big Aryan lunkhead a seeming eternity ago, but it was still there. “Accio 44 Magnum Smith & Wesson”.
The heavy weight of the gun snapped into my palm and I grinned. I didn’t know where I was, or why, or who was shooting at me, but everything was now right with the world. I summoned a box of ammo for the gun, allowing Victoria to load it for me, then drew the shining steel Shooting Iron from the Warehouse and rose, avoiding Officer Delacort’s hands. “Hold tight.” I told her, my enhanced vision sweeping the street in slow time. I found the shooters between one heartbeat and the next. Lubdub, Boom! Lubdub, Boom! Lubdub, Boom! Six times my gun roared, drilling each of the shooters through tender but not vital parts of their anatomy.
I strode across the street and grabbed the nearest of the shooters, a young, nervous, junky looking kid, maybe 25. “You gotta ask yourself, Punk. Did I fire 6 times or 7?”
“Th… that doesn’t make any sense Mister!” he wailed, hand clutched over the graze in his left biceps, blood streaming down his neck from where I’d blown off his right earlobe. Stupid diamond stud, always hated them.
I cocked the Magnum’s hammer. “I’ll ask again, WHY AM I HERE?” The kid, finally realizing he was dealing with a demented lunatic, pissed himself and started babbling about some crime boss named Eddie something or other, but it was all noise to me. No… wait, those were sirens. Great, the cavalry shows up as soon as the action stops. What is this, an 80’s action movie?
30 minutes later, the cops let me go. Turns out I was one of them, retired, Lt Sam Jones. Vice. 40 years on the job, then out when I hit 64. I wasn’t old. I was in my prime… I needed a smoke… and a drink. Christ. I shook my head, wait… I don’t smoke… and I’m not Christian. But apparently Sam did and was… though not a very good one. We found ourselves a bar and tried to make sense of this all.
“Victoria? Any ideas?”
“None. The Vending Machines are all locked away in their alcove and it’s not like there’s a number we can call.” I thought about that for a moment, then smirked.
“Tell Zane to grab the phone on my bedside and dial *69.”
A moment later, there was a click and a pre-recorded voice said “Thank you for calling Jumpchain. If there is a problem, please stand by, a representative will be with you shortly.” There was another click and the line went dead. Then there was a sound like a computerized dialling signal, all rapid boops and beeps, then the air smelled like toner. A moment later, a single white sheet of glossy fax paper floated down from the rafters.
“Dear Sir and or Madam, We regret to inform you that there has been a slight glitch in the system. It is being looked into and should be resolved shortly. In the meantime, please enjoy your stay in [INSERT NAME OF JUMP SETTING HERE]. Your wait time should be no more than [INSERT NUMBER HERE] Months. Below, you will find your Choice Balance for this Jump. Please verify that all choices are correct. If there are any further complications, do not hesitate to contact us at [INSERT LOCAL CONTACT NUMBER HERE].”
Age: 64, Male
Powers & Abilities
- Do You Feel Lucky: While holding a weapon, your powers of intimidation are almost legendary. Doesn’t work on non-punks/mooks/civilians. [100/Free Eastwood] (0)
- One Bullet Left: You always have 1 final round in the chamber of any weapon you’re using when it counts. You can still run out of Ammo, but will always be able to find one round of ammo if you look for a few seconds. [200/Discount Eastwood] (100)
- Beyond the Threshold: When Tortured, you just get sarcastic. No amount of pain can make you talk, and in fact, being tortured just makes you tougher and harder to kill. [600/Discount Eastwood] (400)
- Old Age & Treachery : No matter how old you are, you can still kick ass and keep your muscle mass. You will be in peak physical condition until your dying breath, even if you smoke like a chimney and drink like a fish. Your wounds still hurt when the weather is bad though. (500)
- Hidden Talent : Sushi Chef (600)
- (&#&*(UHU&DF:  – Enasinifasuhf,95u9dj7y6 (1400)
- The Right Tools for the Job: You have a small bag, like a duffle or a doctor’s bag, that is always nearby when you need it. It contains any handheld tool or weapon theoretically available in your current timeframe, that relate to one Job. It could be assasination one day, safecracking the next, field surgery a third day. Can change once per day. [400/Discount Eastwood] (1600)
- One Riot, One Ranger [+300]: You’re the only man the whole world can call on for help, no matter what the problem is, you get sent in alone. (1300)
- Suburban Hellhole [+200]: The whole world’s in a sorry state. There are wars all over the place, the crime rate’s risen 400% in the last year, and even honest citizens are having to carry to keep themselves alive. Expect gunfights to break out even quicker than normal, and you’ll probably end up having to police the place somehow. There are rumors the government’s even considered making some Mega-City, or blocking parts off to contain the crime…(1100)
- Get Off My Lawn [+100]: Ability to be Cranky no matter what. Inability to not act like a cranky old geezer. Automatically sets your age to 62+1d8 and locks you into that form for the duration of the jump. After the jump, you can retain the ability to act like a crank at any moment and have people treat you like a crank while you’re being cranky. (1000)
I blinked at the page, slowly crumpling it. 800 Choice for a string of nonsense? What the hell? Torture? Wait… sushi… mmmm… I do like sushi. Maybe this won’t be so bad.
It was. It was torture. It was a nightmare. Sure, there were crazy people trying to kill me for some reason, and sure, I was getting called in to rescue someone at least once a week, sometimes twice, and the crime was mind-bogglingly bad… but that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that it was 1983 and the big new game of the year was Atari’s wonderflop “E.T.” Home Computers were in their infancy. Dot Matrix Printers were the height of technology, and the fashion… oh, the Fashion.
Big Hair, Loud Music, Tacky Clothing. I was old, and cranky, but nothing could have excused the fashion crimes I saw daily. And I was locked into this form, which was creaky, battle weary, and prone to wind. The largest hole to the Warehouse I could open was barely large enough to stick my head through, and doing so made my head hurt.
In the end, I was stuck there for almost a year. I smoked a lot, drank a lot, shot an awful lot of people in not too nice of places, and cranked my way through a metric ton of oneliners. I also managed to get myself tortured 10 times… in 11 months. The dentist was the worst of it… at least I didn’t have to pay him.
After months of fighting drug dealers, rescuing kidnapped kids, foiling heists, breaking up hostage situations, and generally being a plot monkey for an action movie of the week special, I was feeling every ache and pain and smoking a pack and a half a day just to keep from biting people… literally. I didn’t know what the glitch was, despite experimentation, but I a sneaking suspicion it was related to the outfit. Whatever it was, my wardrobe (which contained nothing but pattern shirts and Y-Front briefs) always seemed to survive whatever I was hit with. Including hails of bullets, buckets of paint, and an encounter with a samurai. And yes, I did try to find other clothing… a task I had absolutely no luck with. Apparently there was a clothing shortage, as every time I managed to find one of LA’s notoriously hard to find male clothiers, they were sold out of everything besides pattern shirts, leather pants, speedos, and novelty socks. There were no underwear for sale anywhere.
The end of my stay in the 80s came to an end abruptly one day in the endless summer that was this world’s LA, as the ground simply cracked away beneath me, the big one hitting like a balloon full of Oobleck being destroyed by a golfball. Everything shattered, spinning away to nothingness, to purple and black clouds and suddenly I was falling, falling, out of the sky, my form rippling around me, returning me to my normal sub-five foot frame and restoring my proper genitalia and clothing. I felt all the upgrades from the 80s melt away and was frankly glad to see them go. I hadn’t asked for them and hadn’t enjoyed them while I’d had them.
An island, floating in the sky, rose up beneath me and I flipped up to land on it as I had learned in Ranma Country, but that proved unnecessary as a gust of wind swirled up from the depths below and gusted me onto the landing like I was a feather. I looked around. The world looked like a realistic version of what I’d seen in the short video. I was, it seemed, finally in Bastion. Wearing an oversized bathrobe. Wonderful.
A scroll fell from the sky above me, bouncing off my head before I could catch it. Rubbing the bump, I unrolled the scroll and studied it.
“Welcome to Bastion, Hero. That’s what every round these parts will be calling you for the next ten years, so get used to it. Anyway, you’ve got one task. The World is broken. You like fixing things so much, fix it.”
To that end, you’ve been given the following abilities;
*Dig My Hole: Claustrophobic? Not anymore. You are now completely comfortable underground, can see well in dim lighting, and have a natural feel for the stone around you, allowing you to instinctively avoid unstable ground, gas pockets, and other dangers, all while homing in on valuable minerals or other prizes. You can dig with your hands as well as a normal man could dig with a pick or shovel and with the right tools you can dig as well as a team of five.
*Build That Wall: A working knowledge of the basics of Caelondian technology, including knowledge of how to harness Burstone Cores to produce usable Mantic energy, which can be used to power basic machinery, short range flying machines, computers, and a variety of other devices as well as to reinforce existing structures by running a Matic current through it. This enhances whatever physical properties those structures possess (usually durability), though other uses are possible. As a bonus, you also have basic construction skills for more mundane buildings and devices.
*The Stone Remembers: When things are destroyed, they leave behind fragments. These Fragments are tiny pieces of object memory that can, by one who knows the secret of the act, be fused together to recreate anything you have learned how to make, from materials, to weapons, to buildings, to, in theory, Cores. It all depends on how many Fragments you have. Fear not, as, once you have left the world of Bastion behind, you will still find Fragments any time something’s smashed apart or destroyed. It might take longer to learn how to transform Fragments into stuff that’s not from the world of Bastion, but it can be done. Just remember, the bigger and more complicated the thing, the more Fragments you’ll have to pony up.
*Spirited: Since you like potions so much… and drinking… Caelondian Spirits are a perfect fit for you. Only those alcoholic beverages that confer a direct benefit were permitted within the city and now you know the secrets to brewing these powerful Spirits. All you need is a basic still and a few easily obtained ingredients and you can produce strong drinks that confer incredible benefits if drunk daily, such as enhanced strength, rapid healing, increased vigor, and much more. Normally, drinking more than two or three of these beverages would knock a normal person flat on their ass, but you… you can handle 5 a day without even wobbling… maybe more!
You’ve also been granted a small cache of gear which might help you in your task;
*A Phonograph: A sturdy, old-fashioned, hand-cranked phonograph with much higher-quality sound than you’d expect. Has a collection of local folk songs and the soundtrack to Bastion.
*A Sack o’ Fragments: a bag containing 1,000 fragments, the closest thing to currency left in the world of Bastion. These tiny pieces of stone contain fragmented memories of the Old World.
*Caelondian City Crest: an ornamental gear worn on the back, this crest indicates membership in a Caelondian guild. The Crest carries a tiny portion of the power of the Bastion, Caelondia’s safe haven. This power can restore broken things, assuming it has a recording of it’s original shape. In the broken remains of the Old World, it can draw on the Bastion’s memories of the Old World to reconstruct small pieces of what was, forging paths and rebuilding small islands. While rebuilding more than a tiny portion of a city is beyond this gear’s power, it does make travel among the tiny floating islands much easier. Without the Bastion, this gear is useless unless you can find a way to connect it to another data storage system, in which case it can restore small objects and locations to stored specifications. It can ONLY restore destroyed objects, not create new ones out of raw materials.
*Vineapple Seeds: A packet of seeds for the Vineapple plant that grows in abundance in the Wilds. They grow quickly and with minimal care, and quickly bear a spiky fruit. The green fruit given by this plant are safe to eat, delicious, nutritious, and give a minor increase to physical abilities for several minutes. The yellow fruit are very sensitive, and a small nudge can cause them to violently explode and spread their seeds. The color of fruit grown can be predicted by the color of the seeds, but both varieties give equal amount of seeds for both.
*Burstone: A small crate of burstone that refills once weekly. Burstone is an excellent capacitor, capable of storing a great deal of energy and discharging it slowly when provided with an outlet. Burstone acts like a rechargeable battery with no maximum limit, capable of storing immense energy without difficulty. The discharge is normally steady and controlled, but destroying it will release all its energy at once. Caelondian technology has ways to coax more energy from burstone at once without destroying it.
*Gel Cannister: you gain a small cannister, filled with a blue gel. Shattering this cannister causes a small, white robotic sentry turret to form from the resulting puddle. This cute little fellow speaks in a gentle, soft voice, and will fill anything that moves within it’s field of vision with hundreds of bullets in seconds. However, it cannot turn on it’s own, rendering it vulnerable to attacks from behind. If destroyed or deactivated, it dissolves into particles, and a new cannister appears in your Warehouse. It will never fire on you.
*Core: The basis of most of Caelondia’s technology and the source of the greater portion of its riches, Cores give off an incredible amount of power at a steady rate. If they ever run dry or burn out, nobody’s ever lived long enough to see it happen; in all of Caelondia’s history, no Core has ever run out of power. It can also “remember”, that is it soaks up data about the world around it like a sponge, and (if given) the right stimulus, it can be made to repair what was broken, bringing it back to the way the Core ‘remembers’ it being. Of course, doing this is extremely complex, and at the absolute cutting edge of Caelondian science the primary usage of Cores is as a combination power source and data storage device, with nearly unlimited capacity for both.
To make your efforts that much more exciting, in addition to the obvious challenge, you’ll also have to deal with the following limitations;
*The Wild Unknown: Every Animal and plant in the Wilds will be altered to your presence and will want you gone.
*No Head for Heights: For your stay in Bastion World, you will find that your acrophobia has been… augmented. This seems fair since you’re being cured of your Claustrophobia for good.
Good luck, and (as always) remember to have fun.
-The Powers that Be
I considered the note for a long time, then sighed “Thanks for nothing.” While I’m a big fan of worldbuilders like Civilization and Populous, I hadn’t enjoyed playing Minecraft particularly. It was too hands on, too personal, too much like work. But I had liked Factorio. Maybe I could use that. But first, let’s deal with my acrophobia… and this lovely climate.
I portaled into my Warehouse, pulling the Halifax (The Federation Assault Shuttle I’d borrowed from Starfleet) out of the parking lot and, with a bit of jiggery pokery and experimentation, installed the Core inside her. I tossed in my Nimbus 2000 for EVA, then, took her out into the endless atmosphere of what I guess was called The Old World. While the Halifax’s onboard VI (Vincent) scanned first the collection of Burstone, the Fragments, and the Core to learn their power signature, and Zane did some visual reconnaissance from the pilot’s seat, I set to work with Victoria.
A fear of heights is purely in the mind. Normally, I’d be able to tap into Vulcanian emotional control and ignore it, but I wasn’t counting on that being enough. No, I was going to have to trick myself… and accept some limitations. To that end, I fabricated a new pair of OmniGel contact lenses. These weren’t just HUD, they were blackout lenses that scanned the environment and then projected a lineart image of the world, where solid ground was parchment colored and unsafe ground (or the total lack there of) was red. Shades of pink would cross the danger spectrum. I set the things to slide over my eyes whenever there was a drop off within 15 feet. Sure, that meant I’d be cutting off 60% of the visual information I could be gaining, and losing most of the color and vibrancy of the world… but it was better than nothing.
The basics taken care of, all that remained was to find out what had happened here, then somehow put any entire continent back together. No problem. The note had said something about fragments and cores remembering… and being able to reconstruct given the right impetus… so I guess I’d be collecting stuff.
Our scans began picking up lifesigns, some human, others animalian or plantlife… and some that seemed entirely native to this world. We were also getting pings on surviving structures… and lots of Burstone in all its varied forms. There were half a dozen Cores out there, a similar number of items with less powerful signatures that I took to be something my new skill sets called “Shards” and just tons of fragments and cut Burstone. There were also several supplies of raw Burstone.
The voice in my head kept rambling about stuff, talking about the Bastion and the Monument and some people called the Ura. All I had to do was glance at a section of our scans or pull up a lifeform scan and I’d get a 30 second infoblurb about it. At least he didn’t repeat himself, though it was clear that, from a few of his statements, he was hiding something. Almost all the lifesigns seemed to be off to the East, with only four human signals left at all in the western half of the continent. On the far side of the world, there seemed to be many numerous signals, but somehow I sensed that side of the world was out of bounds. No, my task was here, in the shattered lands.
Three of the lifesigns seemed to be relatively close to each other, with one apparently isolated. I went after that one first. Turned out to be a young man with silver hair stranded all alone in the ruins of an outpost armed only with a massive warhammer. Seems he’d been trapped out here when the Calamity hit with no way back to the Bastion. He seemed… shellshocked quite frankly, and mostly quiet, but he did thank me for the rescue. I welcomed him aboard, but asked him not to break anything. Zane waved. The Survivor grunted. All was good in the shuttle.
I took us to the next life sign, an underground memorial of some kind, where we found a black haired man who seemed lost in despair. He called himself Zulf. Another stop and we found Zia, also black haired, nice young lady, and at the end we found Ruck, all alone in the shattered remains of the Bastion. Talking to each of them I learned that the civilization of the Shattered Lands had been divided between the Caelondians and the Ura, that 50 years previously there’d been a massive war between the two, and that apparently both sides were massive assholes. Neither side seemed to have any idea what had caused the Calamity. Zulf and Zia were Ura, while the Survivor and Ruck were Caelondian, but each of them had wildly different backgrounds
Zulf had been born among the Ura, but had been rescued from a childhood of privation and misery by a Caelondian Missionary and had moved to Caelondia. Zia’s parents had fled some unknown oppression in their homeland to immigrate to Caelondia, but her mother had died in childhood and her father had been a distant workaholic. Ruck was a scientist and builder, head of the Bastion project and by far the oldest of the quartet. And the Survivor, who Ruck kept calling “The Kid”, was the only person in city history to ever sign up for two tours along the outer defenses and had a tragic backstory about a sick mother.
The kid agreed to help me gather Fragments and Ruck not only agreed to help me put the world back together, but had, in fact, already built a device that would do exactly that. It was called “The Monument” and all it needed was 6 Cores and some time. While the Kid and I went zooming off looking for them, Zulf had agreed to translate Zia’s father’s journal, written in the Ura tongue, something Zia couldn’t understand.
Long story short, we fought our way through the various lifecycles of the indigenous lifeform known as “Windbags”, semi-sapient creatures that the Caelondians had used as a labor force apparently, but now, freed of their masters, were running amok. I wasn’t sure if they’d been happy as slaves and were now rebelling or if the Calamity had driven them crazy, but regardless, they went down fast under plasma rounds. We cleared lots of traps. I froze a lot of collapsing ground and introduced the Kid to the wonders of flying broomsticks. I couldn’t use it very well with my… ahem… limitation… but he could. Saved lots of time. We got those Cores in record time, headed back to the Bastion. Found out Zulf had run off.
We were installing the Cores when he came back… at the head of an Ura army. Dudes are fast, using a variation of flashstep it looks like. Clever. But they were attacking far from any edge and I could use my eyes. I’d spent a decade practicing martial arts in Ranmaland. It took me thirty seconds to see what they were doing, another thirty to figure out the basics, all the while watching as The Kid used the various local weapons he’d picked up to mow the Ura down… Ruck helpfully turning my little Turret (who absolutely was one of those gits from Portal and wasn’t that a little confusing) to allow her to keep on shooting.
There were a lot of Ura… it took us almost an hour to kill them all, Zulf among them. Found Zia’s father’s journal on his body. On a hunch I ran it through Victoria and her Star Trek Universal Translator. Learned a lot I hadn’t known. Apparently Zia’s dad had designed the weapon that had done all this damage… for the Caelondian Mancers… this group of city big brains. It had been designed to destroy the Ura… apparently Zia’s dad hated his own people as much as the Caelondians had. But then the Caelondians had arrested Zia for espionage… which seemed a bit out of character for the highly sheltered girl I’d come to know.
At some point after that he’d tampered with the mechanism, changing its safety programming so that when fired it would blow the city to smithereens along with the Ura. Great thinking there Tex, let’s blow up the city your beloved daughter lives in to save her from racists. Cause and Effect clearly wasn’t Zia’s dad’s forte.
Ruck, still hiding something, told us all to stand back, triggering the Monument. I can only blame my distraction at watching the machine work for not figuring out what was going to happen. The world flowed, changed, reset itself to a condition it had been before the Calamity hit. The Ura dead vanished. Ruck vanished. Zia and the Kid Vanished. Zane, Me, and my shuttle were hanging in midair, a mile or so up.
I screamed, flailed, panicked. Zane, with less… insane responses, grabbed me, then accio’d my broomstick. We landed in the wilderness, Vincent bringing the shuttle down roughly but the onboard Omni-Gel and Core fixed it up almost instantly. We got aboard as the local wildlife began attacking in droves, birds and giant armored toads and bushes that launched needles… horrible place. Much better from 12,000 feet. Which is a good place to be when the world comes to an end.
I hadn’t been around for the Calamity mark 1. I got a bird’s eye view for Calamity mark 2. The world convulsed, ripping itself apart, the shattered bits of it flying up into the sky. It was horrible, brutal, and strangely beautiful. I sighed “Right. Lets do this again.”
Zane asked “Why weren’t we reset?” I considered, then said “Because we weren’t in the Monument’s memory of the old world. I’m a drop-in, remember?” He nodded, it was the only thing that made sense. “I wonder how many times this has happened?”
From then on, Zulf didn’t get his hands on Zia’s father’s Journal. Sometimes I didn’t even bother saving him. We reset the world over and over and over again. The process only took a couple of days. I gathered Shards, multiple copies of them, inside my warehouse, mined Burstone by the kiloton, fragments by the millions. And studied Caelondia for the 15 minutes between Reset and Calamity. Infinite loop. No wonder the Kid was so good with weapons. Some part of him had to be learning across cycle after cycle.
Shards aren’t as good as Cores. They burn out. But they’re the same thing, essentially. Get enough fragments and you can make a Core. Use Shards and the number of fragments you need goes down. It took me 8 years of resets, twice a week, every week, to get enough for my purpose. Granted, much of that time was spent murdering the local wildlife, getting Shards and Cores, collecting and working Alloy, and getting really good with the local Mantic tech. I didn’t expect the knowledge to be helpful outside of the world, but I needed it to obtain my goal.
I also spent a lot of time drunk. This was stressful. I was having the exact same conversations with 3 or 4 people in a loop. My companions were taking turns helping me with the endless task, getting progressively more and more bored with endless battle and mining. There were also complaints about how much of the Warehouse was being taken up with pulsing Red Crystals or crates of blue dust or stone.
Finally, my ACE was ready. Oh, sorry, that would be my Anti-Calamity Engine. You know what the problem with an End of the World device is? It’s hard as hell to test it without blowing yourself up. Well, I was about to make sure the Calamity never happened. Ever again.
I reset the world. I no longer needed Ruck, no longer needed the Kid. None of that. As soon as the clouds cleared, we deployed the ACE. It did as it had been built to do. It plunged down, down, down, boring right through this once active volcano, sealing the bore behind it, powered by more than 800 Cores. They hit the mantle… then dispersed their power. I could see it ripple across the continent at fifty times the speed of sound… just as the Calamity hit the planet… and bounced. The gigantic, insanely destructive blast that had shattered and warped an entire continent, bounced off the shielding I’d crafted, then plowed through the atmosphere, leaving a cyclonic eye in its passing. I bet that caused any amount of confusion, but I wasn’t done yet.
I landed my shuttle on the roof of the Mancer’s HQ, then strode in the front door. There was only one way to deal with Genocidal lunatics. These people had killed millions. They would pay. To say I went postal on the Mancers is putting it mildly. I ended them. I erased them from the stone’s memory. Yeah, that had been tricky, and I have no intention of explaining to anyone how it worked, but it involved Obliviate and a modified Calamity Cannon. Yes, the smaller ones still worked.
In the end, I left only Zia’s father. In the Ura language I said to him “You are a racist, egotistical ass. But you thought you were doing this for your daughter. I like your daughter.” I could see his anger growing as an outsider used the holy language. “I also don’t like you. I stopped your weapon. It will never work now. All the Mancers are dead. The city will want to know how you survived. If I let you live, they’ll take it out on Zia. That’s why you have to die. You were willing to kill tens of thousands of people for your petty revenge. But you should know the name of your killer. I am called Hero. Goodbye.” And I shot him. If the stone remembered, then it remembered, but I didn’t erase him. Then I stole all the Cores that Powered the Calamity, and detonated the entire facility.
A few days later, after the dust settled, I attended Zulf’s wedding. It was nice. I’d also managed to arrange for the Kid and Zia to run into each other. A decorated veteran and the daughter of one of the dead in the disastrous accident that had taken the city’s Mancers… dunno if things would work out for them, but I didn’t stick around to find out. I had a little under two years to explore this world and I did. It wasn’t a bad place. Consumed with the same hatreds and stupidity as all human cultures, but it wasn’t so bad… now that there was plenty of solid ground to stand on. The wildlife still sucked. I toured the Ura lands, explored the city, even visited the Old World. Bit run down, but not too bad.
I don’t know if things would be better now. Life’s like that. The big thing was that almost everyone was alive, able to hopefully work towards a better tomorrow.
On the last day of the jump, I found a secluded beach and watched the sun set. A slow applause settled across the land as the world froze. I stepped through into my Warehouse, leaving the Bastion, Caelondia, the Ura, and their world behind. For the first time I was unsure if I’d miss the world. Infamous Earth and Tamriel I definitely wouldn’t miss (ditto for the 80s). Federation Space, Ranma Earth, Harry Potter Earth, Mass Effect Space, even the PokeWorlds… I had fond memories of them all. But with the Bastion, I’d had a job to do, a lonely, mostly solitary job, and I’d gotten it done… but I was empty inside. Drained. I felt no vindication. All I’d done was stop the end of the world.
Next: World 10, Swat Kats