Saturday, November 6, 2410|
1274 Humboldt Street
'Lise woke up in her bathtub at home with rainy daylight streaming in through the window, the AlphaCollider remix of Eine kleine Nachtmusik playing on the stereo out in the living room, and - to her surprise - no discernible hangover effects apart from an epic jones for bacon.
Bacon... and answers.
Well, no reason why I can't try to get both of those at once, she thought, climbing out of the tub and heading back to the living room. She took a couple of minutes to hunt up her phone (it had, as always, managed to end up under one of the couch cushions), then checked the time. 8:44 AM - good enough. Strangefate opened at nine, so it should be safe to call.
"Raven? Hey. 'Lise Fleming here. Listen, I need to have breakfast with the Chief and I haven't got time to arrange for it to happen the normal way... "
'Lise took a quick shower, threw on an AlphaCollider T-shirt (because they were uppermost in her mind when she opened the closet), black combat pants, and - since it was raining - her green wellies and flappy black coat. She managed to remember her keys on the way out for once, then headed down to the Interstellar House of Pancakes in White City to meet the Chief.
Once the waitress had brought their orders and left her alone with the Chief in the corner booth, 'Lise got straight down to brass tacks, because A) he was a busy guy and B) she'd heard he liked that kind of thing anyway:
"What happened when Kei was with the Ghostbusters? The fight in the abandoned subway. How did it end?"
Gryphon blinked, surprised both by her sudden mention of his missing wife and the context in which she'd been mentioned. It took him a couple of seconds to put his reply together:
"I... don't know."
"You don't? Nothing at all?"
He shook his head. "No. Well, I knew she'd worked with them, but not what happened. Abandoned subway?" She nodded. "See, I never heard anything about that."
"Well, let's back up," 'Lise said. "Why was she there?"
Gryphon sawed off a corner of his Belgian waffle and ate it before responding. "It was one of the Operation Hero missions," he said. "In the 1990s, before First Contact, the WDF wasn't welcome on Earth. Sometimes we would sneak back, insert small covert teams, and try to recruit people we thought could handle the ride."
That got a nod. "Right, I've read about that. Pretty eclectic guest list," 'Lise added with a little smile.
Gryphon shrugged. "We were 18, 19 when we started out. It seemed like the thing to do. And it usually worked out. In this case... Kei spent about a month with the Ghostbusters. She came back empty-handed, and... that was that, basically. I figured something had gone wrong - they were reported missing right after she got back - but she never wanted to talk about it, and the rest of us gave her space. It's not as if we were in a position to investigate."
'Lise frowned thoughtfully, looking down at her plate of bacon. "Hmm."
"My turn to ask a question," Gryphon said. "Why do you ask?"
She glanced up, met his eye, and considered her answer for a few seconds, then sighed. "OK, look, it's like this. Skuld has one of their protoncasters. I'm distantly descended from the Ghostbusters' first client, so she let me have a go with it, and when I put it on I had a... vision. Not much of one, just a flash, of the battle in the subway. Last night I went to see if I could find it again and I got a more complete read on it - enough to know that Kei was there."
She spread out her notes, including the storyboard-like scribbled cartoons of the last few minutes, and explained (between rashers of bacon) what she'd seen happening, to the extent that she understood it herself. Pointing to the sketch of the darkened ticket hall, she said, "I need to know what happened after that. I have... I have a feeling it's important somehow. I can't really explain it better than that."
Gryphon, having worked his way through his waffle and her notes at the same time, put down his fork and nodded.
"So do I," he agreed. "We should - " He hesitated, his eyes unfocusing slightly. "Hang on," he said; then, scowling, he came back and said, "Or I could spend the day on B6, averting interstellar war," he grumbled.
'Lise shrugged. "It's been 400-some years," she said, then added wryly, "It'll probably keep a few more days."
Gryphon stood up. "OK. I'll be back as quick as I can and we'll look into this."
"Sure," 'Lise said. "Thanks a lot for your time," she added, rising with him. "I know you've got a lot going on... "
He sighed ruefully. "Sometimes a little too much," he agreed. "I'll see you when I get back. In the meantime, don't do anything crazy."
"Sure," she repeated. "No worries. I'm not even a field operative."
When Gryphon said "don't do anything crazy," 'Lise figured that had probably covered actions like infiltrating the heart of the Earth Alliance. In fairness, she'd had no intention of doing any such thing when she'd assured him that she wouldn't. She'd have been perfectly content to wait for him to finish preventing interstellar war, then provide IT support while he did something crazy. That was her usual portfolio at the Bureau, after all. It was for the badass PIs, like Hellboy and Coraline, to go out there and slug it out with the Forces of Weirdness. 'Lise saw herself as more akin to a Network 23 News reporter's producer.
Except that she happened to have mentioned the matter to a couple of colleagues she was lunching with later on Saturday, having momentarily forgotten that they were much more adventurous than she was.
Given that Earth was Strictly Off-Limits to anyone from the Republic of Zeta Cygni these days, but particularly to members of the International Police Organization, 'Lise would've figured she'd be a little nervous, and in fact she was for the actual trip, but now that they were actually here? Not a twinge. Everything under control.
Part of that was because she had no reason to believe that the Earth Alliance had any information about her on file. She wasn't exactly a high-profile operative. So instead, the whole thing had a distinct and pleasant flavor of adventure about it. She was not just out from behind her desk, she was in New York. If that wasn't the dark heart of enemy territory these days, politically speaking, she was pretty sure she could see it from there. It was like being in a spy movie, which she'd always thought was something any right-thinking person should want to do once.
Maybe if I'm really lucky we'll rob a bank while we're here, she thought.
Admittedly, that wasn't too likely. In fact, she and her colleagues weren't even planning on going aboveground if they could help it. As such, bank robbery would definitely be too high-profile an activity for this trip.
They arrived in the abandoned ticket hall where 'Lise's vision had ended, because that was the place with which she had the strongest psychic tie. That was Illyana's doing, a weird form of teleportation involving a bounce through a parallel dimension, or possibly (based on the quick glimpse 'Lise got of it while they were there) a prog rock album cover. 'Yana was the one who had actually suggested that they come here and investigate in person, 'Lise presumed because it was obviously the least advisable thing to do.
Now the blonde Russian looked around at their surroundings and remarked dryly, "Swanky."
Coraline made a sound that might've been agreement or might've been a dusty-in-here cough, removed an ectometer from an inside pocket of her yellow slicker, and started sweeping the room.
"Well, nothing much happening in here, psychokinetically speaking," she said after a few moments. "Let's have a look down on the platform."
The escalators down were choked with debris and impassable; it looked like part of the platform level had collapsed. Instead, the trio went to the hole through which - if 'Lise's vision had been right - Kei Morgan had entered this room 400-odd years earlier. The space beyond was dark and silent, but as she leaned through and peered into the darkness, 'Lise felt her hackles rise. She sniffed at the air. It smelled as one might expect the air to smell in such a place, as it had smelled in her dream - musty, stale, but there was nothing unnatural about it.
Coraline opened the flap of her messenger bag and said, "Dexter, do we have a lumisphere, please?" A moment later the bag's disembodied hand emerged with the requested device; she took it, thanked the hand (which withdrew), then activated the lumisphere and tossed it through the hole. It levitated automatically to the ceiling and then powered up to full intensity, filling the room with cold bluish light.
It was, indeed, the curiously ornate brick-and-tile subway platform 'Lise had seen in the vision. The lumisphere's light revealed curving blast scars on the wall and debris - broken bricks and tile corners, mainly - scattered around the floor. The dust lay as heavy as the silence. There was no monster, no sign of recent activity, and no trace of the Ghostbusters... but still 'Lise felt uneasy.
She glanced at her colleagues and saw that they did too. All three women were experienced paranormalists, despite their youth - in fact, all three had been entangled in various supernatural matters, through more or less no fault of their own, since childhood. All three could tell now that there was something going on in this yawning, empty, ruined space that wasn't apparent to the naked eye.
They let themselves carefully down one by one from the hole and onto the platform. 'Lise had some trouble with this on account of the bulky, heavy backpack she was wearing, prompting Illyana to ask her,
"Why did you insist on bringing the demon hunting junk? Way I heard it, it's not even that effective."
"They weren't using it correctly," 'Lise said. "Anyway, it's well-built, even if the people who made it didn't really know what they were doing."
"But what do you even anticipate needing it for?" Illyana wanted to know as she helped 'Lise down to the platform level. "I'm reasonably sure there are no demons down here."
Coraline took out her ectometer again, consulting it only briefly before putting it away.
"I wouldn't be so sure," she said. "PK's off the scale, but the signature isn't spectral. Something is definitely happening down here. We just can't perceive it. It's probably been rotated a few degrees off the zorth axis."
Illyana smiled coldly. "The Many-Angled Ones. Excellent. This may turn out to be worth the trip after all."
Coraline eyed her sidelong. "You and I understand the word 'excellent' very differently."
Illyana walked a bit further into the chamber; as she did so, her normal (expensive, extravagantly stylish, but normal) clothing misted away, replaced by gleaming, intricately plated silver armor. She raised her hand above her head, and as a matching sword appeared in it she declared in a voice that rang to the corners of the room,
'Lise and Coraline looked at each other. "OK, I'm sure that's not a good idea," said 'Lise.
Ignoring her, Illyana went on, "H'ee-l'geb f'ai throdog! UAAAH!"
As she completed the incantation, the room shook as if in an earthquake, mortar dust billowing down from between bricks.
"Yeah, called that," said 'Lise.
The lumisphere burst with a harsh crackle of overloaded repulsorlifts, but even as its light died the chamber filled with an new light, an icy, unearthly glow unlike anything 'Lise had ever encountered before.
And within that glow...
... the Ghostbusters, motionless, their forms slightly indistinct, like a lo-rez analog video image inefficiently paused. Two had been caught, frozen, in the process of throwing proton streams, their incandescent ribbons only partway extended toward their obvious target. Huge, wet and noisome, impossibly somehow gelid and sinewy at the same time, that target hulked in the center of what was once the station platform and lashed the space around it with a hundred dripping black tentacles, its thousand eyes glaring balefully around it as it shrieked silent madness from a thousand razor-edged beaks.
Oh, hello, Class-B Outer God Manifestation (Tentacular/Hostile), 'Lise thought with the one cluster of her neurons that weren't recoiling in horror from the sight of it.
An instant later, time resumed and everything got very much worse.
"I don't think this thing is a ghost!" Winston Zeddemore yelled as he ducked away from a tentacle.
"What was your first clue?" Peter Venkman inquired.
"This is not in my contract!" Zeddemore insisted.
Illyana, faced with a nameless horror from outside of time, didn't hesitate for a moment; this was, in fact, exactly what she had hoped would happen. With a fierce smile, she charged across the station, bounding up a rude staircase of different-sized rubble chunks, and cut off the last ten feet or so one of the entity's tentacles moments before it could finish encircling Ray Stantz. The entity recoiled, roaring, as the severed length of tentacle fell away and dissolved to nothingness.
"All right, Dr. Stantz?" she inquired.
"Thanks," Stantz replied. "That was close. Wait, where's Kei? Where did you come from?" He blinked as if he'd just noticed her armor. "... And what are you wearing?!"
"It's a long story," Illyana told him, and then she had to leave him and dart across to help Spengler.
Nearby, Coraline Jones shook off her shock, opened her bag, and said, "Dexter, the Saganizer, please." Dexter emerged a moment later holding a chunky pistol-shaped device that looked like it had been built out of equal parts impossibly-high-tech electronics and plumbing parts; Coraline thanked him, took it, then shifted the bag so that it was hanging behind her and moved to support Zeddemore.
Back by the hole in the wall, as far away as she could get without turning her back to climb out of here, 'Lise crouched behind a heap of broken bricks and hoped it wouldn't notice her. With the small fragment of her consciousness that could still think she thought, This is like an episode of Lensmen: The Brave and the Bold. Except I'm not a Lensman. Or brave./* Dropkick Murphys
"Cadence to Arms"
Do or Die (1998) */
She watched in terrified fascination for perhaps a minute - an eternity in a battle like this - as Illyana, Coraline, and the Ghostbusters tried to find a way of dealing with the monstrous entity... and failed repeatedly, narrowly avoiding a number of messy deaths in the process. Illyana's sword could cut the beast's eldritch flesh, but it seemed to have an infinite reserve of new tentacles, like a hydra's heads. Coraline's Sagan-Tesla Disjunction Ray Projector, a miniaturized version of a device developed to disrupt the corporeal forms of just such beings as this, was quite effective; but it could only disintegrate a little of the enormous entity at a time, so she had the same problem as 'Yana.
For their part, the Ghostbusters were a well-oiled machine, coordinating their fire, covering each others' pauses to vent their proton packs, and even managing to herd the creature into the corner of the room, but their weapons seemed like they could only annoy the beast, not really harm it. As soon as it figured that out - and it might at any moment - their containment strategy would collapse and the situation would get completely out of hand.
A thought flickered across 'Lise's mostly paralyzed mind. Almost unwillingly, she reached up behind her right shoulder and unracked the wand from the Triple-I proton pack she'd "borrowed". She stared at it for a couple of seconds, almost hypnotized by the blinking green LED that told her the pack was powered up and the wand in standby mode. Then, as if in a dream, she thumbed the rocker switch that energized the wand./* 0:53 */
The distinctive sound of the weapon coming online shattered the crystal dome of fear that had settled over her mind. With a hot surge of anger at this thing for reducing her to momentary animal cowardice, 'Lise lunged to her feet and ran toward the battle.
Pete Venkman recoiled from a lashing tentacle, stumbling on a piece of debris; his weary legs betrayed him and he fell, his proton stream skidding away from the entity's oily black hide and carving a glowing squiggle across the ceiling. He landed hard, jarring his back on the unyielding bulk of the pack, and cried out in pain and frustration. How long had they been doing this? Time had ceased to have any meaning long ago. It was almost as if they'd been in this dank chamber forever, locked in eternal, futile combat with this hideous, monstrous thing. Even the legendary Venkman sangfroid could only handle so much of this crap.
The tentacle he'd avoided curled back toward the main body of the beast, reared into the air, then poised to sweep down and crush him. His aching body still in disarray from the fall, Venkman tried to scramble back and bring his nearly-useless weapon to bear, but nothing seemed to work any more - there wasn't time -
A third stranger, this one a small, slender figure in black and green, darted past him. Uttering an inarticulate cry of challenge, she let fly with what looked like a newer-model protoncaster. Its beam was different - more red than orange - and its voice had a subetheric snarl to it that was absent from the normal operating mode. It had a definite effect on the creature, though. Where the others' beams slid over its semi-distinct surface or seemed to want to bend away from it, the red beam bit deep, twisting with an almost living avidity, and black ichor sprayed out as the liquescent flesh shriveled and burned with an acrid, stomach-churning stink. The creature's shrieking took on a new note of pain and fury as its whole substance recoiled in shock from this new and much more effective torment.
"On your feet, Dr. Venkman," his savior said, grabbing one of his pack straps with a tiny but surprisingly strong hand and dragging him upright.
"Wha - what'd you just do?" Venkman asked, slack-jawed.
"This entity is the corporeal manifestation of an Outer God," the stranger told him in a businesslike tone. As she spoke, she went around behind him, opened an access panel on his pack, and started doing something inside it. "I'm not sure which one and frankly I don't care - "
Overhearing her, Coraline shouted from somewhere off to the right, "It's Shub-Niggurath! See the horns?"
" - the point is," 'Lise went on doggedly, "its body is partially ectoplasmic, but only partially. Hold still - I'm adjusting your proton pack to compensate."
Venkman craned his neck to get a better look at her. "How do you know that?" he asked.
She finished making adjustments, closed the access panel, and then met his eye and gave him a smile. She was a pretty young thing in a slightly punky, slightly gothy kind of way, and even under these conditions, Venkman felt his radar lock on. He couldn't help it; he was just built that way.
"You'd think you'd never met a girl who'd read Lovecraft's Manual of the Planes before," she said.
"Good God, you're all women," Venkman replied as if he'd just noticed.
'Lise rolled her eyes slightly and said, "Contain yourself and lay down some covering fire, Dr. Venkman. I have to help the others."/* Dropkick Murphys
"Do or Die"
Do Or Die (1998) */
Hitting on all cylinders now, she dashed from one Ghostbuster to the next, working her magic on each of their packs. Within minutes, she had the other Ghostbusters retuned and ready to roll. Her intimate familiarity with the workings of the proton packs and her innate rapport with technology made it the work of only a minute or so for her to remodulate them along the same lines as the III models. Once again that organization's engineers had done the Right Thing by accident; she made a mental note to look into that if she survived the day.
Once she had them all up to speed, with Illyana as roving cover against the more enerprising tentacles and Coraline providing pinpoint striking power with her smaller but much more precise weapon, the five arrayed themselves around Shub-Niggurath, making slashing feints and hemming it in much more effectively than before. Gradually, inexorably, the Ghostbusters and their unexpected BPRD backup began to gain the upper hand.
"I mean, I don't have a problem with it," Venkman carried on as if there hadn't been ten minutes of desperate battle against an Outer God in between the two statements, his voice raised over the shrieks of the creature and the roar of massed proton streams. "It's just that now I know it I can't stop looking at you. Is that weird?"
'Lise just shook her head with a faintly indulgent smile - he was just like the books all said - and didn't reply.
"I hate to be the one to ask," Stantz called across the formation, "but what do we do with it once we've caught it?"
"We'll have to figure out some way to disjoin it!" 'Lise yelled to him.
"Oh! That sounds - "
He didn't get to finish his sarcastic remark, because it was at that moment that the entity seemed to realize what they were doing. Screaming in what almost sounded like defiance, it drew back from all of them, concentrating itself in the center of their fields of fire -
- then lunged upward, shattering the vaulted ceiling above it. The Ghostbusters, Illyana, Coraline, and 'Lise ducked instinctively as bricks rained down all around. Cool night air flooded the chamber, starlight twinkled down... and the creature was gone. Moments later, they could hear the sounds of horns, screeching tires, and renewed Outer God howling from the street above.
"... Oh, that can't be good," Venkman said.
Actually, once they made their way hurriedly up half-collapsed and long-barricaded access tunnels and stairwells to the street, they saw that it went some way beyond not good. Shub-Niggurath - seeming even larger now that it was out in the open air - had emerged from its underground prison smack in the middle of Times Square, which it now appeared to be trying to either wreck or devour, or possibly both.
"So much for keeping a low profile," Coraline muttered.
Winston Zeddemore looked around him in mystified awe. This was Times Square, sure, it was unmistakable, but at the same time it was obviously not the Times Square he'd last seen what seemed like either hours or an eternity ago. Everything was different apart from a handful of the buildings. The style and flash and vibe of the place was the same, but the technology that gave it that vibe was all sleeker and stranger. The signs seemed to be in three dimensions, jumping out of their settings as though somehow painted in freestanding space with light.
A lot of the cars could fly.
"What the hell... " he murmured. Around him, his three colleagues gazed around in similar baffled astonishment.
"... Uh, OK, look, I would've preferred not to have to drop this on you guys in the middle of a fight with an Outer God, but hey, nothing else has gone according to plan today," 'Lise told them. "You've... been out of circulation for a while. Quite a while. Exactly how long isn't important right now."
"What is important is that the Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young is about to eat Midtown," Coraline added./* Ray Parker, Jr.
Ghostbusters: Original Soundtrack Album (1984) */
Pete Venkman was the first to recover. Smirking at Coraline, he unracked his proton wand, energized it with a decisive flick of his thumb, and said,
"Not as long as the Ghostbusters are here."
"Yeah!" Stantz agreed.
"Hell yeah!" said Zeddemore.
Egon Spengler took off his glasses, cleaned them methodically, put them back on, and drew his own proton wand with a wry little smile.
"I couldn't have said it better," he said.
Venkman grinned. "Ladies and gentlemen... let's get to work."
Sunday, November 6, 2410
New York, New York, Earth
Dawn broke over a lower Manhattan strewn with rubble and the unmistakable signs of recently concluded chaos. At the south end of Broadway, four men in grey jumpsuits, a petite woman in black and green, another in a yellow rain slicker, and a blonde in what appeared to be medieval plate armor stood ankle-deep in slowly evaporating black sludge and congratulated each other on a job well done.
"... hundred years?" Winston Zeddemore demanded.
"And a bit," 'Lise confirmed, nodding. "I've got a book back at my place that'll explain the whole thing - "
"That might be a problem," said Coraline, gesturing. Now that the entity was down, the cops who had spent the night maintaining a perimeter (as best they could) around the highly mobile battle were now facing them, weapons drawn. A line of them advanced with a man wearing sergeant's stripes on point, their faces grim.
"Freeze!" the sergeant demanded as his group reached earshot.
Illyana's armor flickered and vanished, seamlessly replaced by her street clothes. Regarding the man and his gun without any noticeable concern, she asked him, "Have you got a towel?" Making a face, she added, "I'm sure I've got eldritch horror in my hair."
"You're all under arrest," the cop barked. "Put your hands on - "
Pete Venkman broke away from the rest of the group, ignoring the sergeant's drawn and leveled weapon, and put his arm over the man's shoulders, aiming him away from the others.
"My friend," he said amiably, "don't be a dick." He turned the sergeant around, facing him north, and gestured to the New York skyline. "See this town? This great, big, crazy, stupid, wonderful town which you are sworn to serve and protect? Well, it's still here and not roasting in the depths of the Sloar today because of, well, us." With that he turned the man back around and indicated his companions. "So what do you say we just... walk away... and you never got a good look at any of us."
The sergeant glanced at Venkman, then the others, then back at Venkman, and nodded slowly. "Yeah," he said. "That sounds good to me."
Venkman smiled and patted the cop graciously on the shoulder as he released him. "Thank you, Sergeant," he said. "You are an officer and a gentleman."
Then he walked back to the others, looking from one of his old colleagues to the next. Each of them nodded. With another little smile, he turned to Illyana and made a courtly by-all-means gesture. She returned the smile, concentrated, and a sudden rising disc of light swept the seven of them away.
"Who were those guys, Sarge?" one of the younger cops asked.
"Beats the hell outta me, Johnny," the sergeant said.
"The Other Side" - A Future Imperfect Mini-Story by Benjamin D. Hutchins
Dr. Venkman's reference consultant: Janice Collier
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