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Challenges of the Deeps: Chapter Twenty Eight

       Last updated: Friday, December 2, 2016 19:24 EST



    “Fictional powers can be made real,” Laila Canning repeated slowly. Her sharp brown eyes studied Oasis as though the redheaded woman was a specimen on her dissection table. R#8220;How certain are you of this?”

    “Between ninety-five and a hundred percent sure,” Oasis said. “I mean, Wu Kung already demonstrated he’s going totally beyond the normal limits of the Arena and he can do that talk-to-animals thing that no one does, as far as we know.”

    “That’s… that’s a total game-changer right there,” Carl said after a pause. “I mean… the Arena giving Hyperions their… how do I say it? Natural superpowers?”

    “It’s perfectly in line with the Arena’s normal behavior,” Simon said. “Although, based on other events, I have to assume that the Arena has a range of discretion it can use in interpreting its directives and actions. The real question isn’t so much how it can justify this… but why it has chosen to do so.”

    Laila nodded. “That is indeed the question. As Carl says, this potentially changes everything — in general, favorably for us, although your possible sighting could be very much not in anyone’s favor, Oasis.”

    “Fairchild? He’d be a total disaster for everyone. Especially with DuQuesne and Wu off for who knows how long.”

    She still sounds worried. “Oasis, why DuQuesne specifically? I mean, we still have you, and Velocity, and I presume there must be a few others left.”

    The woman’s long, slender fingers caught at the ponytail dangling near them and began twining the red strands around them, a nervous motion at odds with the cheerfully unflappable Oasis he was used to. “There probably are some more — I think DuQuesne said there might be fifteen, sixteen of us still around, so with me, DuQuesne, Wu, Maria-Susanna, and Vel, that’s ten or eleven still back in the System. But I didn’t know who they were. I didn’t want to know, remember? I was hiding out as Oasis Abrams, not really ever planning to be ‘K’ again. I think DuQuesne was the only one with a good idea of who the other survivors were and where or how to contact them.”

    She took a breath, glanced at her hand, and with a visible effort made it release her hair and drop to her side. “DuQuesne is Fairchild’s opposite number. Fairchild… wasn’t exactly human, I guess is the best way to put it, and both he and DuQuesne had a lot of powers that go way, way beyond normal human capabilities. Way out of my league, or Vel’s. Plus being his designed opposite, in a world that assumed the good guys win and bad guys lose? That has to give DuQuesne a major edge over Fairchild.”

    “Very interesting,” Laila said. “Eminently logical, if I accept the basic premises. The Arena is accepting their universes as real for the purposes of what powers it gives them; if the universe itself had a clear… definition of right and wrong and of victory conditions, you believe that at least some of that would also transfer to the Arena.”

    “Yes. Or it’s at least a real good bet.”

    “You know, we should be able to get an answer as to whether this Fairchild guy is here or not,” Carl said.

    “Really? Aside from Oasis, none of us here would even recognize the gentleman,” Simon said.

    “Probably not, but you’ve got that super-cheat-code in your head, right? Couldn’t you just look for him that way?”

    Simon blinked, then chuckled. “I probably could, at that.”

    “Will you?” Laila asked. “I understand very well your reluctance to abuse that ability, but I think time may be of the essence in at least knowing if we do have a Hyperion-born enemy out there.” For a moment, he saw unconcealed worry on the former biologist’s face. “Honestly, Simon, the idea of someone who is DuQuesne‘s equal out there as an enemy? That terrifies me.”

    “You and me both, as DuQuesne might say,” Simon agreed. “Very well, Laila. I will make the attempt; at the least this capability of mine should be used to serve the needs of our Faction Leaders — permanent or temporary.”

    Once more he drew on that transcendent feeling, the ultimate clarity that lay beyond mere mortality. Doctor Alexander Fairchild, he thought. Is he here? If he is, where?

    Almost instantly he felt that sudden wrenching turn of virtual viewpoint, the sensation that presaged his ascension to a pure and detailed vision of his target.

    But just as suddenly it stopped. He had the vaguest sense of the target and its location — somewhere in Nexus Arena! — and then… nothing. An impenetrable gray fog enveloped most of the gigantic construct.

    He sat back with such startled force that he nearly tipped the chair over.

    “What is it, Simon?” Oasis asked, steadying him with one hand on his shoulder.

    “It was… the most disorienting thing I have ever experienced,” he said after a moment. “I had the feeling I was about to see, or at least locate, this Doctor Fairchild… and then … nothing. I had a sense that he was indeed here, somewhere in Nexus Arena… but after that, it was as though the truth were cloaked, hidden in shadows I could not penetrate.” He gave a wry smile, trying to hide how startled and, truth be told, upset he felt. “After never encountering a limit with this power, I must say I was unprepared to find one.”

    Oasis could not hide the fact that she had gone pale. “But you did sense him.”

    He frowned. “I think so. But I admit I have never tried to look for an individual before. Perhaps that is not allowed except in a very broad sense.”

    “Simple to find out,” Carl said. “Try locating someone you know is around.”

    “Very well. Let me see…”

    He rose to the Olympian heights and thought, Dr. Relgof.

    Without a pause, he felt that turn, and his vision sped away from Humanity’s Embassy and across Nexus Arena. He found himself looking down on Relgof Nov’Ne Knarph as he engaged in some form of discussion with a number of other members of the Analytic, inside the huge Great Faction House.

    That worked. It’s terrifying, also, but it worked. He thought for a moment. Perhaps it doesn’t work on Hyperions?

    Easy enough to test. He thought about Oasis, and his perception swiveled and spun, to come to rest above, well, himself, looking down upon the red-headed Hyperion. So much for that theory.

    Perhaps it has to do with that… universe of origin? In which case I should be able to find Ariane but not DuQuesne.

    But both attempts rebuffed him; he streaked off through vast spaces of the Arena, to a location that would be distant indeed… but long before he even got a clear sense of where that was within the titanic confines of the Arena, everything dissolved in grayness. Odd. Decidedly odd.

    The transcendent feeling still remained with him, and a few quick tests showed that he could still hold details beyond human comprehension in his mind. The power did not seem weakened. But there are particular beings, or locations, that refuse to be… remote-viewed, scryed, whatever I might call it. He tested a few other choices, finding it easy to locate and view Oscar Naraj, Sethrik, and even Mairakag Achan, serving various customers in his restaurant.

    But when he tried to look in on Nyanthus, he was once more completely stymied by gray indeterminism. Then, perhaps, it has to do with particular capabilities. If so, perhaps I could not locate Ariane because she has such powers locked within her.

    Maria-Susanna was also grayed-out. Now that worries me. I did not get the impression she had inhuman abilities per se. Why can I not locate her?

    He opened his eyes, letting that sense recede. “I can locate some people but not others. I am not yet entirely sure of the rules that determine which I can, well, spy upon and which I cannot. It is not, however, based on whether they are inside a Faction House, or a member of any given Faction, or limited by species. My best guess at the moment is that it reflects people who have some type of Arena-granted special capabilities, but even that is not universal.” He looked at Oasis. “I could view you easily enough, even though I know you must have at least some special talents or powers from your Hyperion background.”

    Laila frowned and smoothed back her pageboy-cut chestnut hair. “Nonetheless, we have confirmed the existence of Doctor Fairchild. Correct, Simon?”

    “I… am afraid so. The sensations were the same as the ones I felt for other people I know exist but who were hidden for some reason.”

    “Damn,” Carl said. “That’s bad. Do you think we could sort him out of the people who’ve come through our Sphere?”

    Oasis bit her lip, thinking. “I really don’t know. He’d want to leave no trail. If we knew exactly what he looked like now, maybe. But while I’m pretty sure whatever body he cloned for himself will look like his sim image, I’m also very sure it won’t be identical. He’s not stupid. He’s a genius and he’s really, really good at thinking things out a hundred steps ahead.”

    Someone with DuQuesne’s brain and the moral compass of a classic villain — a smart — villain — in one of the grandest-scale tales ever written. Very much not what I would have wanted to hear. With an effort, he made himself smile. “This is bad news, but it’s not nearly as bad as it could be. We have at least two advantages over him, after all.”

    Oasis looked up with surprise, and even one of Laila’s eyebrows curved up like a seagull’s wing. “Really? What are those?”

    “Well, first, he doesn’t know we know he is here. If he insists on wearing that outfit you described — a white classic suit — we can make sure many people keep an eye out for him and report; we’ll locate him fast enough.

    “But more importantly, we know that you Hyperions can use your special abilities… but he won’t. He’s undoubtedly read the reports sent back and could tell that none of you were doing anything beyond what your special engineering would allow. He may figure it out eventually, but for now, it’s a clear advantage.”

    He was glad to see Oasis’ face smooth out a bit. “You’re right, Simon. And he’s also without a Faction — or else he’s stuck under the rules of Humanity’s Faction. It will take even Fairchild a while to figure out the Arena and how to exploit it.&##8221;

    “And in the meantime we will do our best to locate him and, hopefully, contain him,” Laila said. “Carl, if I understand our delegated powers, we have essentially absolute authority in the Arena, correct?”

    “Basically, yes. As long as we follow the Arena’s rules, which are pretty loose when it comes to internal Faction business.”

    “Good. Then we will do our best to locate him — and capture him when opportunity presents itself. Put him back in regular space and put him on trial for murder — as I believe we can all agree he is the primary suspect for the deaths of the other Hyperions?”

    Simon saw Oasis nod, and added his own. “And, quite likely, the one who was guiding General Esterhauer — and tried to wipe her when things weren’t following his script. Yes, I think that you not only can use your delegated Leader of Faction powers to capture him, but also have more than enough justification to keep him back home.”

    “I don’t think you can keep him imprisoned forever,” Oasis said. “Or even for very long.”

    “I would think we can keep him busy enough until DuQuesne gets back, at which point, if you’re right, we will have the antidote to his poison, so to speak.”

    Oasis suddenly grinned. “I think you’re right!”

    “Good,̶#8221; Laila said decisively. “The news was not what we hoped, but we have a plan of action — a practical plan of action, I think. Oasis, I know you don’t have standard headware, but please generate some images of this Fairchild for us so that we can transmit them to all our people who might be in a position to find him.”

    “Will do!”

    Simon nodded, but somewhat absently. He was still trying to figure out the rules of this strange gray blankness. A quick test showed that he could locate the other known Hyperion — Velocity Celes — as he practiced piloting one of the Arenaspace vessels near Humanity’s Sphere. Carl Edlund, ditto, just as easy as anyone else.

    But there was one other individual about which there were some questions…

    Even as Simon felt his eyebrow rising in surprise, he realized Laila was speaking to him. “I beg your pardon?”

    “I said, I just realized there is one other question you might be able to answer for me. Well, more precisely, for our negotiator Oscar Naraj, although I admit it is important to me as well.”

    “I’m always willing to help. What is the question?”

    “It is more a fact that poses a question. You understand that Mr. Naraj is an extremely observant man, and especially so in his specialty of negotiation and diplomacy.”

    #8220;I would expect so, yes.”

    “Well, he has of course kept a close eye on the doings of our enemies as well as our allies, and just the other day he asked me if I knew of any particular events that might have affected the Molothos. When I said I did not and asked why, he said that he was fairly certain that neither he, nor anyone else, had seen or heard from their Leader, Dajzail, in quite some time.”

    “Hmm. Well, I can certainly try to answer the question as to where he is.” He closed his eyes once more.

    He rose above and through the Embassy, and thought the question where is Dajzail, Leader of the Molothos?

    A wrenching turn and a rush of speed, flying through the varicolored clouds and spinning Spheres and innumerable living things of the Arena, until he found himself seemingly floating in air within a compartment that to his eyes was too brilliantly lit, and filled with Molothos attending to various duties. In the center sat Dajzail, squatting on some sort of support structure that Simon presumed was a chair. The Leader of the Molothos was examining something on a screen projected before him.

    He’s on board a ship, it would seem. But what ship, and where?

    With barely an effort of thought, Simon rose up, through the hull of the vessel, and floated beyond, looking around, trying to sense the position of the ship below him.

    Wait. There was more than one ship. Simon concentrated, expanded his vision. Two ships. Three. A dozen. Two dozen… no. There were hundreds… no, thousands of ships in this fleet!

    And he suddenly knew where they were.

    His eyes snapped open and he realized he had already stood. “Laila… I believe we have a far bigger problem than a mere renegade Hyperion.”

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