Hidden Pages – Chapter 43 – Tracing a Path to the Quarry


Beth wasn’t as surprised by the ruined futuristic cityscape that surrounded them, or the polished gleam on the glossy armor of the combat cyborg who stood before them as she was by the fact that she recognized them both.

When she’d cut through the veil between worlds with the blade of moonlight, Beth had anticipated landing in a world at war. Technically that was true of the Earth which Gamma City resided on, but since the focus of the series Beth had read wasn’t on the warfare aspect of the story, she’d never imagined that whoever was backing de Rais would be hiding out in such a scifi-based setting.

“Are you all ok?” Silicon Traces, the combat cyborg who was more hovering that standing, asked.

Beth looked over at Starshine and Lagressa. The “Olde Tyme French townsfolk” costumes that Beth and Starshine were still clothed in tugged at the edges of the Unread. The narrative didn’t have many people who dressed in anachronistic fashions, or at least not ones which had been out of still for centuries. The old time clothing was still less of a disturbance than the skin tight space suits they wore underneath though. Gamma City had plenty of scifi tech, but it skewed more towards body modifying cybernetic enhancements and less towards the zap guns, spaceships and laser robots that were prominent in Starshine’s homeworld.

Unlike her companions, Lagressa fit into the new milieu seamlessly. With a black business suit and mirror shades, she would have been invisible in any social setting save the one they’d arrived in.

“Yeah, no injuries here,” Beth said, after meeting Lagressa and Starshine’s gazes to make sure that was true.

“How?” Sil asked.

Beth and her companions had arrived either kneeling (Lagressa) or seating (Starshine and Beth) in the remains of an abandoned clothing store. Only Beth’s intuitive connection to the Unread told her that though. The store had been hit by the kind of destructive ordnance that left it less of a store and more of a shallow crater in the ground with a few collapsed sections of wall and ceiling still standing (and smoking) to provide evidence that a building had once stood in the general vicinity of where they were.

“We just got here,” Beth said, thinking of at least a half dozen better stories, but not wanting to lie to the cyborg if she didn’t have to. Partly that was out of a desire to deal honestly with a potential ally and partly it was because the Valkyrie armor system that Sil wore had a sensor package which was easily capable of detecting micro-expressions and changes in pulse.

Lying to the person who was probably responsible for annihilating several of the former buildings in the area struck Beth as unwise. They were back in the Unread, so she was semi-invulnerable again, but if she was blasted back to the physical world there was no telling where she would return. Or where Lagressa or Starshine would wind up.

‘You ran into one of our combat zones?” Sil asked. Her armored mask obscured her features but the tilt of her head was unmistakable in conveying her confusion.

“We’re looking for someone,” Beth said.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Sil said, her mechanized voice soft despite the metallic vibrato. “If they were here then I don’t think they made it. Yours were the only life signs I saw once all was said and done.”

“Unfortunately, I don’t think we’re that lucky,” Beth said.

“You think someone survived all this?” Sil asked, gesturing to the devastation that surrounded them.

“I do,” Beth said and pause to consider her next words carefully. “They have Ai’s NME Activation Sequence, so they’re not necessarily a baseline human anymore.”

The air charged with electricity, not because of tension rising, but because Sil’s weapon systems flared to an instantly ready state. Lagressa and Starshine both tensed, ready to join the fray should one commence, but Beth waved them off with a small gesture of her hand.

“What?” Sil said, all softness gone.

“The person we’re looking for is dangerous,” Beth said. “They very likely have access to an unparalleled degree of restricted and secret information, including the code which triggers the transformation of ordinary people into Neuro-Muscular Enhanciles like the one which you fought here.”

“And what do you know about Ai?” Sil asked.

“She possesses one of the baseline NME activation sequences and has cracked part of it to allow for modifications to the NMEs final form and features,” Beth said.

“And the person you’re looking for has that code too?” Sil asked, still not relaxing.

“Yes,” Beth said. She didn’t have any demonstrable evidence for that, but she knew she would be able to get the code easily enough if she needed it and had to imagine that someone with more experience manipulating the Unread than she had would be able to do the same too.

“Why should we believe you?” Sil asked, the change in pronouns signaling that she was in contact high speed contact with the rest of her team.

“I can give you the code too if that will help,” Beth said. “Also I can lead you to our target, I think.”

“I think you’ll be coming somewhere safer with me. Call me silly but walking into one of Ai’s traps does not strike me as a particularly bright idea at the moment,” Sil said.

Beth wasn’t opposed to that either, anything that gave her more time to recruit a Valkyrie class companion would be all to the good if their opponent had chosen this world for the reason Beth guessed he might have. Before she had a chance to agree to Sil’s plan though a hyper-velocity slug the size of a basketball slammed into the cyborg, knocking her a dozen meters away.

“I’m afraid I’d really prefer to have a conversation with this young woman myself,” a new cyborg said.

This one was much taller than Sil, this one was far less human than Sil, and, looking at it with eyes that saw more than the physical, this one was another traveler like Beth.