miles awoke with a dull, throbbing lung-ache. It was dark. He coughed. Water. Nasty, oily, brackish water. Somehow this just seemed wrong. He coughed some more, felt warm liquid splashing his face and arms. He rolled over, retching and coughing salty liquids. Something damp fell off his eyes.
It was bright now, bright and gray as ugly as a bureaucrat's form collection. The floor (deck, something far away and fuzzy inside his head insisted) vibrated softly underneath him, and pitched ever so slightly. The retching and coughing over, he stood.
A stack of steel bunks with little room above each mattress stood on his left, a wall of drawers stood to his right, a tiny desk faced him. He turned, to see a steel, oval shaped door with a huge, tubular steel wheel for a handle. A ship. No, a boat - a submarine. Where was he, and why? He vaguely remembered a name - Meesh - and a raft, and a wall of water, with trillions of glistening points of light in it, like maddened, radioactive krill. He remembered being trapped on something, and sinking beneath the waves.
Drowing. Dying. He thought he remembered dying. At least, his life had passed before his eyes. Or maybe it was just technicolor seaweed. It was all so fuzzy. He needed to find out where he was. And why. And he was pretty sure he wanted to get off.
The wheel on the door began to spin. He spun about, looking for a place to hide, or a weapon. He slipped in the salt water and reflux, cracked his head on the floor, and blacked out just as the door opened.
Spaf stared through the reports in front of him. His mind wandered between the cables he imagined he saw on the ocean floor below, if only the boat had transparent decks, and the Oddity, as they called him, who they'd pulled out of the sea after barely escaping that insane, giant wave driven by hordes of radioactive, mutant krill. Sonar showed it on a beeline from Japan to Zimbabwe. Probably create an international incident, according to Dr. Morris.
Meanwhile, they had a job to do. A black operation, blacker than the heart of the President who'd ordered it. A job that could destroy the Internet as they knew it, but one he admitted was inevitable. He still hated it. Someone knocked on his door.
``Enter,'' he called carelessly. On this boat, anyway, there was no reason to worry. Then it hit him. Except for the Oddity.
The door opened, and an Ensign entered. ``Dr. Morris is sleeping, so the Captain thought you should know, the Oddity woke up.''
Spaf relaxed a bit. ``Well, where is he?''
The Ensign looked disgusted. ``He seems to have slipped in some saltwater and puke and knocked himself out again. They have him in sick bay, cleaning him up and checking him over again. Lt. Dolan says he's probably OK, just "tired, unconscious, half drowned, and maybe seasick". He expects him to wake up any minute.''
``Thanks, Ensign, I'll drop by in a few.''
The Ensign nodded and left, pulling the door closed behind him. Spaf glanced at the reports, decided again how pointless and absurd they were, and tossed them in the burn bag. Grabbing his hat, he headed aft for sick bay, humming a Gilbert and Sullivan tune.
BoB looked acros at mr x. ``I think I finally have a fix on him. He kept fading in and out between the pyramid and a disk drive on that anonymous remailer site in Finland, but I have him now.''
mr x looked up testily from the instruments charting Spass's brainwaves, which had finally changed from a relatively flat line to an excited sine wave, which wasn't much better. ``And he would be... where?''
``About 20,000 leagues down, smack in the middle of the Pacific.''
It was mr x's turn to be surprised. ``Alive?''
``Alive. On a sub. Something I haven't see before, and the computers frankly don't believe exists.'' BoB gave mr x a look which dared him to interrupt.
He didn't interrupt.
BoB stared at a wall for a moment, lost in thought. ```Think of a boomer, a big, steenking boomer, say an Ohio class boat but about 50% bigger. Now think of the middle 2/3 as all open space. Now fill it up with the biggest, strongest, spy-grade computers you can think of, and about 3 tons of assorted communications gear, but all of it oriented towards networks, not sonar or missles or whatever. Now think of this sub as never existing, as far as the Navy is concerned. It's crewed by top-flight, retired navy personnel, all RIF'd in the past year. Toss in a half dozen top-level spooks and network geniuses, an escort of a dozen hunter/killer subs, shake well, and what have you got?''
``Apparently where miles is.''
BoB looked non-plussed. ``Well, yeah. But what else?''
mr x thought for a few moments, ignoring Spass's readouts, which now looked like a feral quadratic equation in heat. ``Think of it as a C5 transport.''
``Huh?'' BoB looked at x as if he (x) had lost his marbles, and maybe the bag as well.
``Think of a C5 rigged up with that computer gear.''
BoB nodded slowly. ``Of course. The Black Knight. The Stealth Transport Emergency Internet Spook System, as we called it. But we proved it couldn't be done. You think they tried it with a sub instead?'' He stared at the readouts a moment. ``That would explain it...''
``But why is miles there? What's his part?'' mr x looked rather unpleased. ``Could he be messing with the Intraplanet network we laid down under the oceans last year?''
BoB shook his head. ``That doesn't make any sense. He was as excited about that as we were! He worked out the routing protocols, designed the switches, MUXen and half the gateways! He spec'd the fiber, and helped lay the taps through the deserts into the various national networks. Why would he be messing with it?''
``I don't know,'' x answered frankly, ``but I think we need to.''
BoB uttered a deprecatory oath so vile that the system monitoring Spass's brain turned beet red, and melted into slag. Spass sat up, and muttered something without consonants. Something obviously Hawaiian. Something vaguely terrifying. Deep in thought, nobody noticed.
It was dark, as usual, around the green pyramid. The phosphorescing chemicals in the surrounding water had all decomposed, or reacted, or stopped reacting, or something. Half the Daves were dead and the rest comatose, to everyone else's relief.
Vader ran his fingers across his forehead, freezing as he felt something carved there. Before he could trace it, jj screamed.
``Who's been carving on my forehead?''
``Let me guess'', said Stormwind and CJ in unison. ``It says, "JENINE.EXE;1"!''
``Hah!'' laughed jj bitterly. ``It says, "JJ.EXE;1".''
Thom opened his mouth to speak, but didn't. His mouth, however, stayed open.
The unmistakeable voice of Leo Fender's ghost wafted from across the water. ``Watch out for the guy with the mask and spurs...''
Thom's uvula crawled away and hid before his mouth finally closed.
A bright orange rod bounced slowly towards the desperate, huddled crew of the polystyrene pyramid, striding beneath a tiny, but blinding, white dot.
``Greg!'' whispered jj hopefully.
``Well, I ain't gypsy!'' responded Greg's voice.
Everyone began talking at once. Two of the dead Daves sat up, chiming in with random foolishness. With lightning reflexes, Greg drew The Rod, and its shimmering orange light fell upon the Daves, sending them back to their eternal whatever. He reholstered the rod and stopped a few feet away from the crowd.
dfan demanded, ``How did you get here? You weren't here before!''
Greg shrugged with a noise like dry bones grating together. ``You aren't going to like it.''
``Try us,'' demanded dfan.
``A flying saucer.''
``OK, so what's not to like? Lead us there and let's blow this place! We've eaten the Lime Jello[tm] skin clean off this thing, and what's left is polystyrene. What's not to like, so long as it isn't here?''
A faint whine danced overhead and into the distance.
``I was just a passenger, and not a willing one at that. They kicked me out at a hyperspace bypass, and took off again. I think that was them just now, laughing as they left.''
Sexton plopped down in the green stuff. He stared into the talking darkness around the annoying white pinpoint and the orange glow peeping shyly from a holster. ``Greg, if I didn't know better, and come to think of it I don't, how come you look like you're wearing a Dr. Skeletal Halloween costume with your Net.Cop badge and weapon belt?''
Greg glided eerily closer. He stepped between Sexton and jj. He flicked a Bic. Sexton and jj stared at each other through a chromium ribcage. ``Richard,'' Greg responded, ``it's whole lot more intersting than that.''
The remaining Daves, many of whom had only just struggled back to whatever passed for consciousness in their miniscule brains, fainted. The rest of the survivors began clubbing them like baby seals. Only one slipped away, behind a plastic dune. As he stared, disgustedly, at the carnage before his eyes, a hand dropped down onto his shoulder. He fainted.
Gypsy smiled tenderly but mirthlessly, heaved Dave #3 onto her back, turned, and walked back the way she'd come, away from the crowd, puffing contentedly on a nasty, fat roll of burning leaves.
John Woods sniffed. ``Is that a cigar I smell? Or a municipal incinerator?''
miles awoke again, the sounds of coughing and retching rolling around his skull. Eventually the noise of his nightmares died away. He blinked, blurry-eyed, at the ceiling.
Gray. Definitely gray. Just like before, except he was breathing air - albeit air that smelled vaguely of saltwater and strongly of disinfectant. Gray air? No, gray something beyond the air. It was familiar, and something both comforting and disconcerting.
A pasty white blob with dark spots in it, and a reddish brown streak at one end, interposed itself between his eyes, which stubbornly refused to focus, and the gray. A bright light flashed in his left eye, then his right. In the spotted aftermath, two sharp things seemed to descend toward his eyes. More torture?
``Put your hand down, and let me put your glasses on,'' the blob complained. His glasses! Now they rested comfortably and coolly against his nose and temples, and he managed to focus on a friendly face with red hair, cut militarily.
Dolphins. Dolphins and lieutenant's bars, miles thought. ``Where am I? What boat is this? Why am I here?''
Something beeped in his ear. A dark face over more dolphins and a bunch of stripes pulled something from beside his head. ``98 degrees, sir. Seems to be OK.''
``Welcome to our humble abode, Oddity. You have a visitor; we'll leave you two to get acquainted.'' The lieutenant grinned, turned, spoke to someone, and left, followed by the orderly. The door shut. miles turned his head, and was amazed to see...
...a masked cowboy, sitting calmly in a chair next to the table on which miles lay. Stetson. Lone Ranger mask. Loud shirt. String tie. Lots of silver and turquoise. Levis[tm]. A big, black, busily carved, cowhide belt with an enormous, silver belt buckle, festooned with a cowboy riding what appeared to be a bucking network cable. Boots (roach stompers). Extremely fancy, hand-tooled, Mexican boots. Silver spurs.
miles looked around again. Gray. Everything bolted down. That same, gentle vibration and mild, pitching motion. Yup, still on a sub. Laying on a table in a doctor's office, looking at a cowboy. ``I think,'' miles mused, ``I preferred Meesh. In the raft. In the middle of the ocean. With no food. And the shark.''
The cowboy surveyed him quietly a moment, then spoke. ``I'm not sure about this meesh, but I think we can arrange the rest.''
miles smiled and relaxed, and closed his eyes. ``Good. Wake me up when it's time...''
Hands grabbed what would have been the lapels of his shirt, had he been wearing something other than a faded, worn-out, tye-died tee shirt. The hands hesitated, then grabbed his shoulders and sat him up abruptly. Slowly, miles opened his eyes, looked around.
``Toto,'' he drawled, ``I don't think we're in Texas any more...''
The cowboy let go in disgust, and miles fell back against the hard, metal table, welcoming the darkness that was bound to follow.
The cowboy spoke. ``Oddity, do you have a name?''
``Sure. You show me yours, I'll show you mine.''
The cowboy reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a black rectangle. He opened it and held it in front of miles' glasses. The picture was unmistakeable. So was the name and other information. Now he recognized the voice.
``No,'' the cowboy intoned with annoyance. ``I'm Spaf. Now who are you?''
miles laughed, rolled onto one side, and sat up, wincing at the pain in his back. It felt almost broken since he landed on the raft. ``You probably don't remember meeting me, probably remember me from the Net, if at all. But we have met through a mutual friend, Dany Guindi. I'm miles.''
Spaf stared, winced, and walked out. miles stared, befuddled, at the door. It opened. Two armed marines stood warily in front of it, M-16s pointing almost at miles. The Marines' fingers carressed the carbines' triggers, safeties off. miles smiled, raised his hands, and quipped, "I come in peace.''
Go to next chapter.
Last updated: 21 Jul 1998
Copyright 1998 Miles O'Neal, Austin, TX. All rights reserved.
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This copyright may be freely used, distributed and modified subject to the conditions noted above in the preceeding paragraph. Miles O'Neal <roadkills.r.us@XYZZY.gmail.com> [remove the "XYZZY." to make things work!] c/o RNN / 1705 Oak Forest Dr / Round Rock, TX / 78681-1514