Into the Spider's Web
by Stephen Tsai and Brad Patten


Carl looked at the towering building through his binoculars and checked the address once again. Seated on a bench in Central Park, he blended in with people that normally congregated around the park. He sighed and finished his peanut butter and jelly sandwich just as a pair of bicyclists chased a flock of pigeons off the sidewalk. No one noticed one of the pigeons momentarily disappear before being chased out of an invisible open wormhole.

He was here because he saw a press release that the famous Dr. Molet had recently resurfaced. Molet was one of the true pioneers of the industry; a genuine leader in the field of Artificial Intelligence. Even Carl respected his work; quite a bit of Wedge was based on some of Molet's designs. It was even more surprising that such an esteemed colleague would join a new company that had no prior history. Or at least it was surprising until he saw just how large the main office was.

"Tween, I have the information you asked for about this new company. I don't think you're going to like what you see."

"Want to back that up a little?" Carl noted the twinge of concern in Wedge's voice; that wasn't something he heard often.

"This company's assets are substantial; on the order of several billion dollars."

Carl resisted the urge to smirk at the obvious statement. "I could have told you that just looking at the place."

"But this company's assets are all coming from a number of offshore corporate accounts. Their corporate books look extremely unusual, to say the least. It would take a bunch of CPAs and lawyers to find out for sure, but there's definitely the feeling that something's not on the up-and-up here."

"Well, it's not like I'm going to buy stock in the company." Carl then stopped himself at the casual remark. Wedge was right; companies didn't just materialize with billions of dollars out of nowhere. What it looked like here suggested some kind of major corporate shenanigans, if not outright criminal activity. Of course, knowing and proving were two different things, and anyway, that wasn't why he was interested in the company.

"Well, how about we visit Dr. Molet and see what he has to say? Maybe he can give us the inside view."

"Perhaps."

******

"I'm sorry sir, but Dr. Molet isn't answering," the building concierge said.

"He does work here, right?" Carl asked.

"Yes sir, but he may be out on business or just not answering his caller."

Carl nodded and returned to the residential building's shopping lobby as he looked around. A corporate apartment building with its own shopping mini-mall; would wonders never cease? Convenient as hell for those living in the building, he supposed. But what concerned him more was the presence of security cameras and personnel. Although the guards did their best to look unobtrusive and stay out of people's way, it was very clear that he was going to be under constant surveillance while in this building. But maybe he could get around that with a little thought.

"Wedge, are you there?"

"Yes Tween. It doesn't get any better, I'm afraid."

Carl grimaced as he did his best to maintain a casual expression by ordering a cafe mocha at one of the coffee shops. Smile for the cameras, he thought. "Well, it can't be much worse than down here. They've got enough security guards here to hold off an army regiment." Something wasn't right even with all the security, but he just couldn't place it.

"They are upstairs as well. In addition, I'm picking up motion sensors, audio and thermal trackers. Every entrance is wired with multiple switch trigger relays and each floor has its own backup power and isolated electronic security sensor systems. The walls and floors are lined with seismic sensors to detect any kind of breach. Whoever built this place was serious about keeping things secure."

"Hell, Fort Knox doesn't have this much security. Why would the residents here put up with being under surveillance all the time? What the hell are they doing here that would justify all this?"

"Protecting it from people like us?" a slightly sarcastic reply asked.

"I suppose. Any ideas?"

"We can create a wave-cancellation sweeper to neutralize the motion sensors and a thermal and audio cloak to dampen the heat and sound sensors. Stopping the video is going to be a little harder if they have redundant isolated security systems. I might be able to rig a holographic dummy image to beam to the cameras, but there may be a little interference on the video image. How fast they pick up on that is going to depend on how well trained they are."

Carl didn't like the sound of that; the guards he saw looked attentive and well trained. Not the normal bored expression that most civilian guards tended to have. Chances were he wouldn't have more than a few minutes to look around. But perhaps that would be enough. "OK, let's set it up. Have you found Dr. Molet's room?"

"He's in one of the directors' suites on the 72nd floor. I already have wormhole coordinates set up."

Carl left the complex, still wondering what it was that was out of place...something...

******

"Wedge, you don't understand, Dr. Molet was one of the people who helped create your matrix," Carl said watching Wedge and the spider bot assemble several devices.

"No, he just gave you ideas, you created the matrix itself," Wedge replied.

Carl didn't want to argue about it anymore, Dr. Molet, was a genius, and his ideas had help Carl, it was only because of him that things had worked out so well for him. "Besides that, Wedge he's been missing for what, almost a year, and then shows up here. I want to see what he has been working on."

Wedge and the bot completed the wave cancellation sweeper and several other devices to bypass the security.

"Seems like an awful lot of security for just an apartment complex," Carl said out load.

"Do you wish to wait and gather more information? We have yet to see Dr. Molet since we started monitoring the building."

"No, lets do this," he said coating over with the nano suit protection.

Several tendrils reached through the gateway and attached devices to various areas around the building, attempting to isolate Suite 3 on the 72nd floor from the security grid. The backup systems were bypassed, and with the help of the small bot, the important systems were either turned off, fed data loops or bypassed.

Tween floated through the gateway, by the large window. Looking out he could see the cityscape. The first thing he noticed was Molet's personal scheduler, which mentioned something about a recruiting trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Apparently Molet was trying to visit and recruit his former team of scientists into Prometheus, which seemed to imply that he had no problems with the company. He then looked at the computer systems that were set up, one of them was running a batch job for growing a crystal matrix.

Tween smiled, this wouldn't work, he could tell just by watching the process, Dr. Molet was looking for the right frequency to grow the lattice in three dimensions. Tween decided that Dr. Molet needed some help.

Several blocks away on the mainframe system, the batch job for testing crystal matrix growth possibilities was stopped. A whole new program for growing crystals was input, and began running under Dr. Molet's user ID.

Meanwhile, Tween started to peruse the other databases, some that Molet didn't have access to. One of the first things he found was a current roster of employees, which made Tween do a double take. Molet wasn't the only star Prometheus had recruited; there were world-class experts from every technological field ranging from aerospace, biometrics, and military science. In addition, they had managed to bring on board some of the most successful lawyers, financiers, and media professionals in the business. How did they manage that? People of this caliber didn't just jump for a few thousand dollars salary. And why didn't their previous companies try to keep them? Surely they would have tried to match any kind of offer. Unless they weren't able to.

Tween's frown deepened. Wedge was right; the more he saw, the more he began to worry that something sinister was going on here. The power this company was gathering was far more than just financial and it was doing so with astonishing speed. Something about this company enabled it to get anything or anyone it wanted. He just hoped he could get what he wanted before the trap door slammed shut.

******

"Joe, can you take a look at this?"

Joseph Sloan leaned over and looked at the monitor. A police officer for fifteen years, he had recently retired from the force to take up a position as a shift commander for the security force in the residential tower for Prometheus. He had been lured by the promise of a generous salary and a relatively safer lifestyle and he didn't have any regrets.

"What the heck is that?" Sloan asked. "Some kind of interference?"

"I don't know. Dopplers aren't picking up anything right now. It might be just a camera glitch."

Sloan nodded and frowned. "Keep an eye on it. I'll have the roving team upstairs take a quick peek."

******

Mindshadow looked on in satisfaction as she telekinetically put the final touches on her new base. Situated in the heart of an active volcano in the middle of the Antarctic continent, it was about as secure and isolated as one could get on Earth. The molten lava would provide an almost unlimited amount of energy, along with making for an extremely inhospitable barrier for any would-be invaders.

The base had been the culmination of all her work on developing her powers to this extent, building a base of technological expertise, and personal wealth. It had concealed connections, which allowed her to monitor events throughout the outside world, along with the best creature comforts she could imagine. There was a designated area where she could now train her powers to a finely honed edge, using the techniques she had stolen from the Celestial Keep, not to mention a subtle but powerful surprise for anyone who dared enter without her permission.

"Mindshadow, there is a possible security violation at Prometheus." The voice came from her newly created super AI. She was the latest design from Molet and the rest of the staff and had been dubbed "Athena", which seemed appropriate given her progenitor. As Prometheus continued to improve the design, Athena would grow ever more powerful.

Mindshadow blinked from the distraction. Athena's mental voice has a slight metallic twang to it; it would be something she would have to get used to. "What's unusual about it?" Surely Athena didn't bother her for those noisy brats loitering in the mall; she had seen to it that those insolent children would never return.

"The security personnel have noticed a slight distortion in the video image in the 72nd floor. However, the Doppler and other scanners are not registering any contacts. Be that as it may, there has just been a new computer simulation submitted to the main AI laboratory, originating from Dr. Molet's private quarters."

"Hmm...isn't Dr. Molet supposed to be in Santa Fe recruiting more personnel?" She had meant to accompany him invisibly so she could ensure that the entire staff would sign on, but had gotten tied up building her base.

"Precisely. That would indicate that someone or something is executing a job from his quarters, who is able to bypass the physical security and evade the scanners. The security personnel are already aware of it and will be doing a visual check on the room shortly."

Mindshadow thought it over for a second then narrowed her eyes. "Tell them to abort and return to their stations. I'll check this out myself." She then phased into the Earth as Athena gave an acknowledgement. Mindshadow made a point never to enter her base from above; satellites would inevitably see her and she wanted this base to be her private, protected fortress. But she had something more important to handle at the moment; anyone who could bypass the security she had set up in Prometheus was almost certainly an opponent that demanded her personal attention.

******

Tween took a moment to help himself to a bottle of Louis XIV Cognac while waiting for the computer to download the information he had found. He had found it in a gift basket addressed to Dr. Molet. "Welcome aboard to our happy community," the card said. Sure, he thought; happy to know you'll be constantly watched.

The computer beeped at the completion of the download and Tween fed a copy onto a small optical disc for himself. He had been here too long already and he wanted to study this information from the safety of his base. "Wedge, any sign of security?"

"There's a roving patrol of guards on this floor. They're in one of the connection corridors and heading this way."

"Coming here?"

"Uncertain. They don't look like they're in a hurry though."

"Keep an eye on them; I'm almost done here."

******

Mindshadow came to a hover outside the building and looked inside. So, there he was. A man in a slick black coating of some unusual molecular constructs was poking around Dr. Molet's room. Nanites, probably, she thought; similar to the ones she sensed throughout the Celestial Keep. Surrounding the man were several floating drones that were probably the ones allowing him to bypass the sensors. She would have to improve building security accordingly to prevent a repeat of this.

But what surprised her more was the strength of the intruder's mind. Even Generallisimo Hernandez didn't have a mind as well protected as this. She would have some difficulty penetrating his mind directly. She would have to soften him up first.

******

"Argh...!"

"Tween!" Wedge abruptly pulled away from watching the guard patrol. He cursed himself for letting Tween out of his sight and steeled himself for battle. Whoever could cause Tween such pain was surely more powerful than some guard patrol.

******

Tween squirmed and gasped as his entire body was crushed and squeezed like a vise. At the same time, he felt his equilibrium shift and twist as all his senses went instantly haywire. "Oh shit...!" He flexed his arms in a desperate attempt to break free, only to find himself held fast.

"Well, well...what do we have here? A corporate espionage agent, and a metahuman to boot," a taunting female voice echoed in Tween's head. Telepath, he realized, and a powerful one to be able to project her thoughts through his mental defenses. Not to mention the incredible force she was exerting on his body. He looked around to try and see his foe, but couldn't see a thing.

"I was...trying to help a friend...!" Tween gasped. Damn it, where was she! The more he struggled, the tighter the pressure got. He fired off a burst of bio-static energy to try and short out the telekinetic field but it didn't budge. The energy left a small black scorch mark on the wall.

"Don't lie to a telepath dear, it's insulting. You obviously have some very impressive technology at your disposal. I think I'll have to look and see what you have to give me."

"Wedge, if you're going to do it, do it now...!" Tween managed to gasp.

A panel on Wedge opened something looking like a small cannon glowing a sickening red and black. He watched with alarm as Tween crumpled to the ground and aimed his scanners and weaponry towards the girl hovering in the room next to him. The psionic waves coming from the girl were off the sensor scale; she was giving off massive hypno-telepathic suggestions and telekinetic force waves. Fortunately, those waves weren't penetrating the wormhole portal. "Acknowledge Tween; firing neuro-shock discharge!"

The air crackled with black and red static as bolts of energy erupted around Mindshadow's force bubble. Mindshadow winced slightly as the energy surged and arced around her force field. With her concentration momentarily disrupted, Tween suddenly saw her flicker into view and blanched. Oh crap... not her... "Wedge, I've seen this girl in the computer files! She's the one who killed all those men in Purgatory Prime!"

"And just who are you talking to," Mindshadow demanded. She glanced around and focused her senses around the room. There...a flat point of space where the air molecules weren't flowing. "Interesting..."

"Tween, she's found us and the neural disruptor isn't working!" Wedge shouted as he watched Mindshadow turn to face the portal and head towards it. If he didn't do something in a few seconds, Mindshadow would find their base and most likely dominate or destroy him. But if he cut the portal now without Tween, he would lose teleport lock. It was an impossible dilemma, but realistically Wedge knew he had only one real choice. With a silent command to the gateway device, Wedge moved the dimensional portal. The feelings of guilt would take longer, to get over he had failed Tween twice now.

"Hrumph..." Mindshadow shrugged. The portal shifted, moving faster than she could sense it moved away from the building and disappeared. Largely it was fear of the unknown; she had no idea what was behind that portal and really didn't want to be caught in a position where she could have been held against her will. "As for you..." as she waved her hand at Tween, sending one last surge of power that choked the air out of him. The last thing he saw was a pair of boots hovering over the carpet before blacking out.

******

"Data assimilation complete, awaiting next data feed," Athena reported.

Mindshadow opened her eyes and relaxed slightly as she ceased her telepathic probing and mental transfer. She was feeling extremely pleased with herself; what had started as an annoying thief trying to steal from her newly formed company had revealed itself as an incredible boon of super-technology. Even the little devices he was using to defeat the security had yielded some innovative design ideas that Athena was even now assimilating. Only the Celestial Keep had been a bigger boon and that was largely because Autocrat had developed his technologies over the last twenty years. If this Tween Terrance kept going another twenty years, who knows what he would develop.

"He is quite a find, isn't he?" Mindshadow smiled. "What have we gotten so far?"

"Full designs of fusion reactors, cybernetic interface systems, and AI design are loaded and ready for use. Improvements to my cognitive and intellectual abilities have already been implemented. I would recommend that we design and build a fusion reactor system to augment the existing power supplies in the base and to provide additional power for sophisticated manufacturing. I can also design smaller fusion reactors in anticipation of providing a mobile source of power for other technologies."

"Proceed at once. I want these inventions at my disposal as quickly as possible. I also thought I read something about nanites and replicators in his mind."

"His designs for replicator and nanite technology are partially downloaded, but will require further data extraction to utilize. However, I am reading that his vital signs are beginning to weaken from the strain on his mind."

"The will sapper?"

"Is functioning perfectly. His will is quite under control."

"Well...then I suppose he has earned a rest." Mindshadow then began to shift her attention to other sections of Tween's mind. Too much stimulation on one part of his brain could cause an embolism if she wasn't careful, and it wouldn't do at all to have him die before giving up all his secrets. It was time once again to send Alice back down the rabbit's hole...

******

Tween woke up with a groggy sensation in the middle of the floor. There were no bars or walls that he could see. A sea of darkness, with only a small circle of light overhead surrounded him. He tried to move out of the light, but found himself unable to break the circle.

He didn't remember who he was besides his name or how he had gotten here. His skull felt like it was lined with sandpaper and his head felt like it was full of cotton. Something was keeping his mind from being able to gather its bearings. His muscles felt weak as a kitten as he could barely stand. What happened to him? How long had he been here? Why couldn't he remember?

"Feeling better, Carl?" a voice echoed in his head.

Tween shuddered; something about that voice felt familiar and compelling. "Who...?" he asked the darkness.

As if to answer, a dish of food appeared out of thin air in the light circle in front of him. The food looked downright nasty and rancid, but Tween was suddenly compelled to eat it, despite its spoiled odor.

"Very good, Carl. You must keep up your strength." the voice chided.

"Where am I?" Tween asked, with slowly increasing strength. Rancid or not, food was still food.

"You're home, Carl."

"Don't lie to me! I live in a house with my family!"

"Oh, that again. So sorry to inform you, but you never had a family."

"I remember..." Tween shuddered as his voice trailed off.

"Hahaha..." the voice taunted. "Memories are...adjustable, Carl. I find that particular fantasy useful; it keeps you calm."

"It's not a fantasy..." Tween whispered as a tiny seed of doubt began to form in his mind.

"Yes, of course Carl," the voice replied in a patronizing fashion. "They're as real as you wish them to be. How about we check back with them from the last time we played this little scene?"

Tween blinked as the whole world morphed around him and his own memories seem to sift and reshape themselves against his will. When his equilibrium returned, he found himself lying on a bed with a throbbing headache and a disorienting sensation of déjà vu. Before he could regain his bearings, he heard a shrill and unpleasant voice.

"Carl, get your lazy ass out of bed and do something."

Tween blinked and shook his head. The words were familiar, but the tone was all wrong; strident and forced - like hearing the dialog being read off a movie script. And not that good a performance either.

"Tammy, what?" Tween mumbled as he tried to struggle getting out of bed. His left leg and arm refused to move; well at least that was familiar. But his head didn't feel right. Ever since the accident, he could recall everything he experienced. Or at least, he thought he could; right now, he could barely remember his own name.

"How are you this morning, Dad?" another voice asked.

Tween looked up and saw a strikingly pretty girl standing by the doorway. Part of his mind immediately clicked and proclaimed her 'Becky', but another part screamed in denial. Becky didn't have red hair nor did she normally wear black leather boots and gloves, did she? He shuddered as the warring doubts fought in his mind for supremacy. "You're not..." he trailed off and shook his head. What was he saying? Was this his daughter or was she...?

"You know, Dad," 'Becky' explained with a sinister smile and a condescending tone, "you'll be so much happier if you don't keep questioning everything. After all, why try and justify your fantasy? I mean, if a few details are wrong, then just accept it."

"My family isn't a fantasy!" Tween lashed out. "They're real! I...remember...!" he shouted with only half-hearted determination.

'Becky' smiled, then laughed as she stared at Tween with her green hypnotic eyes. "If you hurry up and get dressed, you'll be in time for Andrew's soccer match this afternoon. Maybe this time, if you cheer loud enough, I'll ensure that his team wins for you. After all, a fantasy is supposed to have a happy ending."

Tween squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head again. This had to be a nightmare! His family was real! The accident had improved his mind to super-genius ability, hadn't it? Or was the whole thing just a fevered, brain-damage fantasy? Where was Wedge? He would know. That is, if he was even real. The harder he tried to remember the truth, the further away his mind seemed to spiral into chaos.

Throughout it all, the sound of a young woman's laughter echoes in his mind.

******

"Search parameters, negative," the spider bot reported.

Wedge acknowledged the bot and continued to do his best to keep his composure. For the second time in recent months Tween was missing and he was alone. He felt a sense of dread and despair; even now, Tween was likely helpless in the grasp of that supervillainess. Or perhaps already dead.

Even worse, he had no idea where Tween was, and even if he did, he knew there was no way he could defeat his captor alone. It was time to call in a few markers. He was going to need help.

TO BE CONTINUED
 

Home       Gaming Guidelines        PC Roster       NPC Roster