Disclaimer: Daria and associated characters are owned by MTV. This is fan fiction written for entertainment only. No money or other negotiable currency or goods have been exchanged.
This is a parallel story to Erin Mills' Worldhopper, a continuation of his Worldburner shared world and is related to various Tales of the Ringbearers stories.
Worldhopper: Ring Shadow
Agency Sector Headquarters. Earth SCR-001
Seated at a conference table, Foundation Guide Reiko Tsereba gently rubbed the scars on the left side of her face. Reiko said, "Five weeks and still absolutely no sign of Judith. It's as if she'd dropped off the face of the Multiverse. Senior Guide Davis and I have tapped every source at our disposal and have come up with nothing."
Seated across the table, Agency Supervisor Richard said, "Judith's planning, and making damn sure that she avoids even the slightest influence on any universe. We can instantly detect any alteration, but otherwise, it's down to universe-by-universe sleuthing the old fashioned way."
"I wish you could spare more agents to help with the search."
Richard shook his head. "I'm sorry, but the rest of the bad guys haven't taken a vacation. With the Foundation crippled and the Corps of Ringbearers removed from reality, we've been stretched thin trying to cover all the additional universes. The Architects Gate Intelligence is up to something, and Apocalypse is creating a mess everywhere she goes. I'm convinced that she's under the influence of the AGI and honestly, she probably was years ago when she first appeared. And that's on top of the usual cross-universe incidents we have to handle."
"I think that's part of Judith's plan. Take out the Foundation, and the Corps and leave you too busy dealing with your primary mission to move against her."
"It's working, and at this time, there's nothing we can do about it."
"We'll keep looking. Anything else?"
A bit embarrassed, Richard said, "One more thing. Dr. Katiyar asked me to remind you about healing your remaining scars."
"You know the answer," Reiko said. "I want them as a reminder of my overconfidence in relation to Judith."
"As I told her, but you know how insistent she can be. With that out of the way, I'm going to call it a night and try to get some rack time before tomorrow's crisis hits me in the face."
"A good night's sleep would probably help my thinking, too. Good night."
Grateful for relaxation techniques that allowed him to unwind and sleep even under the most stressful conditions, Richard rose and went through his morning routine. After dressing and a simple breakfast of scrambled eggs and country sausage, he relaxed on his easy chair. Sipping from a large mug of black coffee, Richard turned on his stereo and selected a mix of music from the late 1970s. Closing his eyes, he focused on the music and for a time, was able to not think about what the day promised.
Sooner than he would have liked, Richard ended his meditation, threw back the last of his coffee and rose. He dropped the mug into the small dishwasher beside the morning dishes and closed the door before turning it on. After a glance around his comfortable cabin, Richard opened the door and stepped outside.
Back at headquarters, he checked the overnight reports, went over the duty roster and after filling another mug of coffee, settled in to the workstation in his lab.
About an hour later, a young man with black hair entered walked over to Richard with a relaxed stride. "We're back," he said.
"Welcome back, Trent." Richard was pleased with how well the slacker (stranded by one of Judith's foiled plans) had turned into a reasonably skilled agent. "Report?"
"Man, I hate zombies."
"Not thrilled with them myself. Were you successful?"
"Yeah, we cleared them all. Zombie dust makes me feel kind of dirty, like I slept on the floor of the Tank."
Trent reached into his pocked and pulled out a rumpled roll of parchment. "Oh yeah, we found this. Got your name on it."
Richard took the scroll and saw, Hypersphere Supervisor Richard written on it with flowing calligraphy. "Hmm," he said and unrolled the scroll.
Something I learned in the Coliseum: never fail to completely defeat an enemy. Kill them or so dominate them that they will never stand against you again. You failed, and now I have years in the void to fuel my hatred. Now that I am free, it will be my pleasure to have my revenge.
Richard rolled it back up. "I was wondering how long this was going to take."
A day later, Richard was seated at the workstation in his lab. Grimly, he highlighted a red line on the sensor monitor to bring up detailed data on the divergent reality. "Universe D-1112. Okay, Apocalypse, you've chosen your ground."
Next, he reached for the telephone, entered a code and said, "All Zeta Teams; briefing in one hour. All Zeta Teams; briefing in one hour. Deployment in two hours."
He punched in a second code. "Historical Comparison Section; I need a baseline overview of Universe D-1112 in fifty minutes."
Finally, Richard used a third code. "Director, it's D-1112. And this time, we finally have what may be enough anti-zombie teams to make up for the loss of the Ringbearer support. Maybe."
He listened and nodded. "Yes, I'm leading the effort. Apocalypse wants to hurt me and will leave if I'm not present. If I'm present, we might get her to stay long enough to at least confine her so that she doesn't do any more damage." Richard rubbed his shoulder, still sore from practice the day before. "Yeah, I know that I'm not getting any younger, but we also know her kind of ego. I'm the target and I must be there."
Richard listened and nodded again. "Yes, ma'am, I will. Thank you."
He hung up the phone and pushed his chair back. "I hope I'm right."
The briefing room looked like something out of the movie Twelve O'Clock High, only updated with a large 3-dimensional display in place of the wall map and the gathered teams taking notes on hand computers instead of pads of paper. Richard walked up the center aisle and then climbed up to the low stage. He waved a hand over the display and it illuminated with data, maps and timelines.
He said, "The mission for today is D-1112. This is an Alt-WWII universe in which Fascist Italy successfully used Nazi Germany as cannon fodder to conquer Europe, northern Asia, Africa and the Middle East to create a new Roman Empire. The Western Hemisphere is dominated by the world's other superpower, United America. This larger union stretches from the Tierra del Fuego to above the Arctic Circle and was formed during the post-WWII Cold War. Japan, China, South Asia, Australia and the Pacific islands where particularly hard hit by the final years of WWII and the hot parts of the cold war thereafter. It is essentially the third world of this reality."
Richard paused and studied the teams. He felt the familiar guilt of knowing that some of them would not return. "As you can guess, this will be a dangerous mission. We will be facing three major threats. First, we have an exogenous, supernatural zombie outbreak. Second, the entity known as Apocalypse is leading and organizing the outbreak. Finally, the Architect's Gate Intelligence is involved potentially influencing Apocalypse."
Several whistles rose from the teams.
With a pass of his hand, Richard made the display focus on a section of the United America coast near Washington D.C. "This is an invasion outbreak, not an epidemic. Zeta teams will contain the zombie threat. Open cooperation with native forces is authorized. This planet will be reset when the situation is resolved."
Richard waved his hand again and the display changed to a detailed map of Lawndale. "Ground Zero is the Architect's Gate in Lawndale. The UA military has established a security cordon around the town, but control is not complete. Hit and run raids by Apocalypse have allowed zombies to escape. As a result, they are now working on a second cordon ring. I will arrive first to make contact with the local authorities and to establish coordination."
Richard closed the display. "Further details have been downloaded to your computers. I will leave shortly and the rest of you will follow in one hour. Any questions?"
The room was silent.
"In that case, good luck, everyone."
Command Post. Lawndale Containment Perimeter. D-1112.
"Proceed," the guard said while giving Richard a salute.
He returned the salute and said, "Thank you," while putting a piece of psychic paper back into his pocket. Convenient stuff, he thought. Less need to influence minds to let me pass. Using an illusionary glamour to appear in a United America uniform, Richard studied the worried faces of the soldiers hurrying about their business. Zombie events often caused greater than usual fear and worry, even among hardened veterans.
Help is on the way.
Richard stopped before the guard in front of an M577 mobile command vehicle. He took out the psychic paper and presented it to the guard. "I have important information for the General. Here is my clearance."
The soldier looked at the paper for a second. He nodded and said, "Wait here. The guard then opened the CP door and said, "Sir, you have a visitor from the Defense Intelligence Agency."
An unusually mild voice said, "Send him in."
The soldier held the door open. "Sir."
Richard nodded and went inside. A tall, African-American man who was this world's counterpart to the ringbearer Archangel stood in front of a wall map, wearing the uniform of an Air Force major general. Richard said, "General Wright."
Gen. Wright looked at him. "What do you have for me?"
Richard took a measured breath. "Something highly unusual. I will have to ask for your patience while I explain"
Gen. Wright relaxed and leaned against the wall map. "Go ahead."
"The portal in Lawndale has made it clear that you, and the Earth, are not alone."
"Let me guess, you're from another planet."
Richard said, "I'm from Earth, but in a different universe." At this moment, he allowed the glamour to fade to reveal his regular Agency field coverall with conspicuous light saber hanging from his belt.
Gen. Wright stood up straight. "That was interesting. I'm listening."
"We have a common enemy and I'm here to bring you help."
"Out of the goodness of your hearts?"
"Mutual benefit. The leader, whom we know as Apocalypse-"
"It was originally a gladiatorial stage name."
"Like the Romans?"
Richard nodded. "On her native Earth, there was a new Roman Empire similar to the one here. She became very proficient before staging a revolt and moving on to larger things. Since then, she has let attacks on many different Earths. Unfortunately, the agency I represent has been fighting another serious threat and it has taken longer than usual for us to muster the forces to stand against her. But, we're here now. My forces will arrive in about half an hour."
"By what means?"
"Interdimensional portals. To your troops, they will appear as if from nowhere. We're trying our best to arrive outside line of sight of your troops so that they can make a less dramatic, and potentially upsetting, first impression."
"What kind of armament are they bringing? Heavy equipment?"
"Many of them have what you would consider superpowers, for want of a better term. On top of that, we have a good variety of high-energy weapons that can destroy large areas and sterilize residues."
Gen. Wright said, "How do you propose to use them?"
"My forces will take the fight to them as shock troops. Our plan is to push directly to the Architect's Gate and destroy it."
"The portal in Lawndale. It is a part of a very ancient transportation system that includes an artificial intelligence. They are rarely noticed unless they want to be noticed."
"You're not interesting in trying to harness this transportation system?"
"Many have tried. We've opted to learn from their failures."
Turning to the map, Gen. Wright said, "How do you propose to capture this Apocalypse?"
"That's my primary assignment. Capture, or kill."
"Your agency likes their commanders to lead from the front, don't they?"
"They don't really like it, but sometimes, we don't give them a choice."
Gen. Wright cracked a smile. "I think I could enjoy working with you."
Wearing powered combat armor, lead elements of the Zeta teams hit the approaching zombie horde with controlled blasts from their plasma rifles. The superheated helium disintegrated the zombies, reducing them to constituent elements and destroying any ability to regenerate. At a steady pace, the teams advanced while the zombies vanished like waves breaking onto shore.
Search and destroy elements followed the leads, using multiple scanning methods to detect zombies that had avoided the plasma blasts. Hunter-seeker rounds launched from mass-driver rifles ensured pinpoint hits that obliterated the target zombie heads.
Overhead, flying teams responded to breakaway groups of zombies and kept up pressure on the flanks to herd the undead to the killing zone.
Behind all of them, UA soldiers pressed on, providing the final wave of firepower to catch any remaining stragglers while filling the gaps between the Zeta teams.
Watching from a command Humvee, Gen. Wright said, "I suppose your prime directive won't let you leave some of that gear behind."
Next an adjacent Humvee Richard said, "Yeah, that falls under influencing a native culture."
Turning, Gen. Wright said, "But won't this entire fight with the zombies and your presence do the same thing? How do you explain that?"
Richard nodded. "I can see why they made you a general. If we successfully stop Apocalypse, we can then go back in time to prevent this invasion from happening, and thus, your planet will have no memory of it. It's called a reset."
"Why don't you just do that right now? It would seem to be quicker and easier."
"It would be, as long as Apocalypse is caught up in the reset. There are a number of ways for dimension travelers to avoid the affects. If we don't stop her first, we risk starting a time war. In those cases, everyone usually comes out a loser."
"I think I understand."
"You don't sound upset about it."
"There's a lot about this that I would like to forget."
"Zeta Seven to Zeta Leader," a voice called over the secure comm system.
Using the Defender Ring omnicommunication ability that the leaders of the missing Corps had given him, Richard responded, "Zeta Leader. Go ahead."
"Target has been spotted circling above Ground Zero. Zombies are now in full retreat toward the gate."
"What is the target doing?"
"Circling overhead at about fifty meters. I'd say that she's guarding the retreat."
"Confirm, Zeta Seven." Mentally opening a link to all teams, Richard then said, "All units. Continue advance and then hold at four hundred meters. Prime target has been spotted. Do not initiate contact. Repeat, do not initiate contact. Defend if engaged."
To Gen. Wright, Richard said, "Now, it's my turn."
He dropped down inside and told the driver, "Move out."
When Richard said, "Stop here," the driver obeyed and parked at an angle to the approach so that Richard could exit under partial cover of the vehicle.
Just ahead, the members of Zeta Team Seven had set up a perimeter line and were continuing to fire upon the retreating zombies.
Richard crouched beside the leader. "Update?"
"Zombies continue to withdraw and Apocalypse is still flying patrol. Orders?"
"Hold here, outside of the blast radius." Richard patted a satchel slung over his shoulder. "I'll plant the charges."
"Wish we could hit the gate from here."
"You and me, both. Sadly, placed charges are the only thing that has worked in the past. They have some kind of shield that blocks incoming projectiles and energy weapons. Anyway, here I go."
As Richard stood, he put up a glamour of invisibility before setting off at a fast jog for the Architect's Gate.
Against the weak to nonexistent minds of the undead, the glamour required little thought to maintain while he jogged through the last of his enemy's horde.
Flying overhead, Apocalypse felt the AGI touch her mind with a warning. "Where are you?" she whispered.
With her raptor-like eyesight, she noticed a slight disturbance in the grass and vegetation. She smiled, saying, "There you are," as she rolled into a shallow dive toward Richard.
With the alley hosting the gate in sight, Richard saw Apocalypse and stopped to ignite his light saber. Not wishing to spend any thought on maintaining the glamour, he allowed it to fade while hoping his guess was correct.
The zombies walking past him without a pause told him he was right. They were following their last order to pass through the gate.
She dove at Richard with her spear couched like a lance while her round shield was held edge-on in front of her. Taking advantage of her speed, Richard telepathically pushed down on the leading edge. The change in aerodynamics caught Apocalypse off guard, causing her to roll and pull down into a steeper dive.
Only the last-moment cupping of her wings as brakes prevented her from crashing into the pavement. Instead, she landed at a kneel and glared at Richard. "How kind of you to accept my invitation."
He said, "You know that the Gate Intelligence is using you, right?"
She gave him an overly-dramatic, faux-shocked looked. "Using me? Like I use it?" She then laughed. "We use each other. But then, isn't that what happens all through the Multiverse? You use people, they use you. Your bosses use you, while you manipulate them. It's all part of the circle of reality."
With that statement, she lunged, thrusting the spear directly at Richard's chest.
He stepped aside, sweeping the spear point away with his weapon. With a continuation of the same movement, he swept the blade at her neck.
With a step back, she rolled to the side and blocked the blow with her shield. Sparks bounced away as the energy blade glanced off the enchanted protection.
Shifting her grip on the spear closer to the head, Apocalypse stabbed at Richard's face, forcing him to jump back and sweep the spear point aside.
Pressing her momentum, she flapped her wings to give her enough lift for a great leap at Richard with spear poised to strike.
He dove forward and rolled beneath her, turning as he stood and bringing his sabre down through the membrane of her right wing, slicing from the trailing edge halfway to the leading edge bones.
Apocalypse screeched in anger and launched herself high in the air. "I also learned in the arena not to take unnecessary chances," she cried out while flying away.
Richard was immediately aware of a chorus of moans as the retreating zombies stopped, turned and started moving toward him.
Eyeing the gate, Richard said, "I'm too close to quit now." He telekinetically brushed zombies aside as he broke into a run toward the gate. Using his left hand, he drew the demolition charge from the satchel while deactivating his light saber. Almost there, he programmed a very short time delay, finishing just as he reached the gate. Careful not to get in front of the sentient device, he placed the charge and pressed the arm button.
Almost as fast, he drew his hand computer and hit the emergency recall button. Instantly, he was drawn through a dimensional gate back to his laboratory.
Only a couple of seconds later, the charge detonated, severing the gate ring and unleashing a massive explosion on the magnitude of a small nuclear warhead.
Gen. Wright's head jerked up when he noticed the flash. "Damn," he said as he watched a mushroom cloud form over Lawndale. "I hope he got out."
A second later, Richard appeared to step through a hole in reality. "That was close," he said as the portal closed behind him.
Gen Wright jumped slightly and said, "Do you do that often?"
"I try to avoid almost getting myself blown up, so no. Sorry for no warning, but I had to get out of there fast and couldn't risk the charge being taken off the gate. Excuse me for a moment." Richard then broadcast to the Agency units, "Apocalypse has escaped the area, but the gate has been destroyed. Proceed with cleanup. Check in when complete."
Gen. Wright said, "How did she get away?"
"She flew away faster than I could run."
"Once I'm sure things are secure here, follow her."
"What kind of cleanup are you going to do? That looks like a nuke went off."
Richard winced. "Yeah, sorry about that. Don't worry, no residual radiation, though downtown Lawndale is gone. That's why I wanted your troops to stay back. The blast should have destroyed most of the remaining zombies, so my teams will get the stragglers. We might as well head back to your headquarters to plan the next move."
Studying a map of Europe on the display, Gen. Wright said, "We have confirmed reports of heavy zombie infestations in central Italy, centered on Rome. Pockets of government and military facilities are being evacuated at the present time. Political rhetoric is blaming the UA for a bioweapons attack and that our problems have been from failed containment of our production facility. Finding Apocalypse in the middle of all that without setting off any of their alarms will be a challenge. If you are noticed, things could get ugly."
Richard asked, "How ugly?"
"Fingers are on the buttons."
"Well, that's why they pay me the big bucks."
"Do you really think you can get in undetected?"
"Get in, sure. Stay undetected while I deal with Apocalypse? Not a chance in hell."
"I don't like the sound of that. If the Romans think that we have units on the ground, they might launch a full nuclear strike. We'd have to retaliate and then, nobody wins."
Richard sighed. "In for a penny," he said, activating the communications on his hand computer. He quickly typed a coded message and hit send. "That should raise a few eyebrows back at base."
"What did you say?"
"I requested a squadron of orbital anti-missile satellites. Full planetary coverage, that way, everyone is covered, no matter who launches first, second or last."
"Something else I bet you're not allowed to share."
"That's right. With a full squadron in place, we can detect and shoot down missiles during the boost phase. Quite a temptation if a nation wants to make a first strike."
Gen. Wright nodded. "Sadly, you're right. I know several generals who would use it in exactly that way."
On a secure telephone, Gen. Wright said, "Yes sir, I understand that it's a huge gamble. We're going to need all the diplomacy that State can give us if we're going to buy them enough time to work. Yes sir, I trust him. If this fails, my career is going to be over but he's going to be dead or worse. And if he succeeds, we'll never even know that it happened. Yes, Mr. President, I'll keep you informed."
He hung up the phone and looked around his command post. "It's out of our hands, now. If any of you want to pray, this would be a good time."
At the assembly point, Richard said, "For everyone's safety, the signal will activate everyone's emergency recall and deactivate your weapons. We don't need anyone accidently shooting up headquarters, again. That will be all."
The crowd murmured a bit. Richard shook his head. "I'm not one for dramatic speeches. If you want one, I recommend listening to the "St. Crispin's Day Speech" from Brannaugh's Henry V. After that, we have a world to save. It's our job and if I'm allowed to say so, we do it very well."
A computer voice said over the comm system, "Transport in five seconds four three two one jump."
Rome, Italy. Earth D-1112
Restored to its original glory, the Coliseum stood above the sea of zombies while, from the top of the outer wall, Apocalypse watched the desperate fighting below in the streets of the city. She smiled and said, "Nice to have warning of when dimension-hopping meddlers want to drop in."
Zombies by the tens of thousands streamed out of a large Architect's Gate inside the Coliseum. Driven by Apocalypse's mental commands, they marched to the streets to meet the approaching Zeta Teams. Even with their advanced weaponry and powers, the teams were on the verge of being overrun.
Seeing the reality of the situation, Richard ordered, "Halt advance! Halt advance! Secure a defendable position and hold. Secure a defendable position and hold."
A team leader called back, "What now?"
"Keep them and Apocalypse busy while I do something. Look like you're losing."
"We're not exactly winning now."
"Don't put your troops at risk, but slowly let them get closer. Look like you're tiring out and using up your energy reserves. Draw her in."
"What if she decides to show up in person?"
"Get the hell out of there. Do not engage Apocalypse. She's mine."
"Getting jealous, sir?"
"I've got an angle. Give me a couple of minutes, I need to go back to headquarters and pick up a couple of items and check something."
"Hurry back sir."
"Report?" Gen. Wright shouted to his command staff.
"Heavy fighting confirmed in Rome."
"Nuclear forces are at the equivalent of DefCon Two."
"That's a relief. They're not ready to fire, yet. The diplomats might actually be pulling this off."
"Glad to see you back, sir," the team leader said as Richard reappeared. "We no longer have to fake it anymore. It's all we can do to hold off these hordes. She has to be bringing them in from somewhere."
"There's a new gate inside the Coliseum. A big one and it's open. She's bringing zombies in from one of her conquered worlds."
"So, what's your angle?"
Richard patted a heavy belt. "Anti-grav propulsor system. This time, I'm taking the fight to Apocalypse."
"I think that she has a lot more experience in aerial combat that you do."
"No kidding, but it's better than being stuck on the ground while she determines when and where to strike. The playing field still sucks, just not as bad."
"You're the boss. How long do we need to hold out?"
"Give me ten minutes. If I don't get back to you by then, I'm dead and you have to hit your recalls."
"Yes, sir. I hope you have something more than the belt, sir."
"Don't worry, I do." Richard gave the man a quick salute and then hit a control on his hand computer, transporting him to the top of the Coliseum.
He quickly saw her about a third of the way around the perimeter. Bolstering his call with some telepathy, he shouted, "Apocalypse!" as he ignited his light saber.
She turned and almost, almost, seemed happy. Launching into the air, she called back, "Oh, there you are. I've been looking forward to this a long time. I hope you're better prepared than last time."
Richard's left hand took a cylinder from his belt and with a press of his thumb, a second, orange-bladed light saber ignited.
"Two for one. I like it," she said. "But don't worry, I have a surprise for you, too."
She landed about thirty feet away from Richard and held up a small control box, pressing a button. "Just a little something to keep your friends busy and not bother us."
"Sir, Flash communication," the technician told Gen. Wright. "We are at DefCon One. Launches have been detected and retaliatory strikes are underway."
He looked up. "I hope those damn things up there work, or we're cooked."
As Apocalypse dove at him, Richard swept the spear point to the side with his left side weapon. In a quick follow-through, he snapped a three-shot combination at her head with his right before bringing up the left toward her lower ribs.
In a fine aerial move, she rolled away and into a dive that took her away, skimming over the stadium seating, though not before the blade grazed her side.
"Now's a good time," Richard said, switching the grav belt on and launching into pursuit.
Screeching in pain, Apocalypse snatched a zombie from the ground and sunk her talons into its flesh, healing her wounds in the process. Just as she dropped the body, she noticed Richard almost upon her.
"More tricks," she said. "I like it. Now we can really play my way."
After a feigned dive at Richard, she pulled hard into a steep climb, flapping hard to quickly gain altitude. "Want to come along?" she called over her shoulder.
"I wouldn't miss it," Richard replied, following her.
As the two climbed, Apocalypse would do wingovers into dives to attack Richard. Nowhere near as skilled in air combat, Richard barely managed to deflect her attacks, conscious of the poisoned rot even the smallest wound would cause. "No Ringbearers around now to save my ass if I get nicked," he whispered as he dodged another attack.
Richard's counter attacks looked clumsy and amateurish next to hers, but he kept them up, creating more and more irritation and anger in Apocalypse.
A little more anger, he thought. And a little more altitude.
After her next pass, Richard pulled slightly higher, stopped at a hover, and then shut down his weapons.
Wary of a trick, Apocalypse rose to his altitude and circled, watching.
Richard telepathically reached out and set up a block around her mind. Right way, he could feel the AGI fight back, trying to unsuccessfully push through his block. Richard glanced down at the Coliseum over a thousand feet below. Good, we're high enough.
Apocalypse growled in his direction. "Are you trying your little mind control tricks on me?"
"No, I'm not touching your mind at all - but look inside, and see who was."
"Why should I trust you?"
"I'm not asking you to. I'm asking you to trust yourself. Look inside."
After a moment, Richard saw fear, anger, and then hate cross her face.
"I didn't think you'd like being used. Really used."
Through clenched teeth, Apocalypse said, "It's going to pay."
"I'm sure it will."
"The enemy of my enemy is my friend. I didn't think you had it in you. I'm impressed."
"Strange days call for strange choices."
With a feral grin, she said, "I'm sure we'll meet again, because I'm not done with you. But for now, this world is yours. I've got bigger plans to make." Apocalypse touched a control on her vambrace and dove down through the portal that opened.
"Hmm, portable D-hopper. Good to know," Richard said. Into his command frequency, he said, "Prepare for recall. Recall in three, two, one, mark."
Below, every member of the Zeta Teams portaled back to Agency headquarters. "Now to finish the job," Richard said, entering coordinates into his hand computer.
Far overhead, nuclear missiles detonated as they rose through the atmosphere, struck down by the orbiting platforms. And outside Lawndale, Gen. Wright said, "That was close, boys. That was close."
Two days earlier, Lawndale, Maryland. D-1112.
A single rat trotted away as Richard portaled into the dark alley behind the Good Time Chinese restaurant. Immediately, he could feel a malevolent mental force trying to push him away, suggesting that he really didn't want to be there.
Keeping close to the wall, Richard approached the hidden Architect's Gate. Similar to his ability to plant suggestions, the gate normally allowed only those it wanted to see it. From prior experience, Richard knew that the gates could manipulate space beyond the event horizon in front of their portal.
When he reached the gate, Richard took two small devices from his pocket and attached them to the frame. After a step back, he swung his arms for extra momentum and jumped over the gate to the other side. A wave of anger and frustration from the gate hit him with an almost physical force. Pushing the psychic attack aside, Richard attached two more devices to the gate and stepped back.
Tapping a control on his hand computer, Richard said, "Bye-bye."
The Architect's Gate shimmered and disappeared. Ninety-three million miles away, the energy of the exploding gate went unnoticed on the surface of the Sun.
Agency Sector Headquarters. Earth SCR-001
Inside the command center, the Director stood next to Richard as they watched giant screens that showed the results of their latest incursion. "Congratulations on successfully completing a difficult reset are in order."
Richards weariness came through as he replied, "Thank you - though I'm sensing that you're not entirely happy with it."
"Apocalypse is still out there."
"Yes, she is, but for now, she's concentrating on the AGI. If the two of them can keep each other busy while we worry about Judith, so much the better."
"That's a dangerous game, Richard."
"And it's the only one in town," he replied.
A sensor technician interrupted them by saying, "Supervisor Director! The void in our hyperspatial scans has expanded. It now covers at least fifty universes. We've lost all contact with them."
Richard looked over the technicians shoulder and whistled. "Complete block?"
"Now we know where Judith is going to make her move."
"She can do that?"
Richard shook his head. "No, I don't think Judith's doing it. She was desperate to get in to the void and couldn't. No, something else is behind it."
"I don't know."
"What can we do?"
"I don't know that, either, but-" Richard switched on the communication unit of his hand computer and said, "Reiko. I think we've found what we've been looking for."
Thanks to Brother Grimace for beta reading.