As was the case with Bypass Gemini, the book begins with an in medias res chunk of action before introducing you to the primary plot. Unlike Bypass Gemini, though, this prologue doesn’t flash forward to an event later in the story. Instead, if gives you a peek at the incident that drives the rest of the story. Readers of the first book should recognize at least one character from the first book. Please keep in mind that this is a rough draft, and a first draft, so it is likely to contain awkward phrasing, errors, and elements which might not make it into the final version.
“Alright boys. Ready for the show?”
The man speaking was named Karter. Actually, his name was much longer and more complicated than that, but since no one ever used more than the first two syllables, he’d stopped going any further. He was odd looking, to say the least. His head, covered mostly with black hair threaded with gray, featured patches of immaculate, glossy black that would look more appropriate on a doll than a man. His face was mostly typical of an aging man who has shown no interest in taking care of himself, but patches managed to look as smooth and pristine as that of a newborn. As a whole, the vaguely bizarre features would likely have been enough to push him into the uncanny valley, but one in particular was outright wrong. His right iris, rather than matching the hazel color of his left, had a mirror finish. A pair of dark goggles was perched on his forehead, and he was wearing arctic gear.
Among any other group of people, he would have stood out like a sore thumb. The three men who joined him, however, made him look positively mundane by comparison. Each was dressed for cold weather, sporting the sort of shiny synthetic outerwear that mountain climbers favor. Equally synthetic headgear, gloves, and boots were joined by almost comically oversized goggles blinking here and there with the telltale indicator lights of electronics. What little flesh was exposed was unfailingly marred by burns both chemical and thermal, scars, stitches, grafts, and – where possible – tattoos.
“We are quite ready, Mr. Dee. I am optimistic that you are able to provide a tool that meets our very specific requirements,” said the main who was unquestionably their leader.
“Minimal structural and biological impact, maximal electronic and technological? Not an uncommon request. Getting things to work on the scale you’re looking for would normally be tricky, but lucky for you a prior party had requested something similar a few years back. Right, so let’s get started.”
The group was standing in the middle of a seemingly endless field of broken, cratered ground. A gray sky, scattered with wispy white clouds, offered little in the way of light and nothing in the way of warmth. A crust of ice covered everything, crunching underfoot as Karter approached one of a handful complex looking bits of equipment in their immediate area. A base approximately the size of a fifty-five gallon drum and constructed from shiny metal panels was topped with a trio of spindly metallic arms, studded with small discs and tracing out the rough shape of a globe. On the side of the base was a hefty, Frankenstein-style knife switch, and dangling above it was what appeared to be a pipe bomb attached by quick release to a flimsy gantry. He pulled down his goggles and leaned down toward it, but a message assembled out of at least three female voices crackled across a speaker somewhere beneath his coat, interrupting him.
“You should inform your guests of the safety precautions,” said the message.
“Oh. Right. You boys might want to look away. Unless, of course, you want to know what your retinas smell like.”
“Our goggles should provide adequate protection,” the leader assured.
“Heh, you wouldn’t believe the number of blind guys I know who said that.”
With a quick flick of the switch, he stepped quickly away from the contraption and began heading toward a dilapidated hover-style school bus a few dozen yards away. Behind him, the contraption was humming, and the discs attached to the thin arms were glowing brightly.
A few seconds later, the rocky field was bathed in a light as bright as day, as a swirling mass of brilliantly shining light coalesced with a whoosh of sound. The three men turned suddenly away, shielding their eyes. By the time any of them could make anything out in the churning purple afterimages that were crowding their vision, they were seeing their host slip into the bus.
“Let’s go, boys,” he said impatiently.
The trio stumbled across the uneven ground and into the bus.
“Quite impressive, Mr. Dee,” said the leader of the men, once the bus had started and heading quickly away from the blinding device, “How quickly can you-”
“That’s not the device you are after. That’s part of the demo. It’s a contained ball of helium and hydrogen plasma, the output of a small fusion reactor. It is there to provide us with a reasonable small scale analog of our reaction medium. That doodad hanging over it is the item of interest, the reaction trigger. One of these,” he said, pulling out a device, identical to the one hanging over the plasma.
“Indeed? And what of the rest of this?” asked the spokesmen of the group, indicating the bizarre assortment of devices that were whipping by outside the windows.
It was a collection of, it would seem, randomly selected objects. There were remote controlled toys rolling and hovering about between street lamps, data terminals, hover cars, and even a small, hovering space vessel.
“Targets. A representative sampling of consumer electronics and infrastructure. Some on batteries, others hooked up to generators, and others hooked up to the grid. Right. Here we are.”
They pulled up to what looked to be a fortified bunker. The plasma ball was a bright dot on the horizon.
“Get ready, and keep your eyes on the plasma,” Karter said.
A few moments passed, the three visitors observing the now distant ball of light with eyes just recovering from its ignition. When nothing seemed to be happening, the leader turned to address their host.
“What precisely are we-” he began, just in time to see the door click shut on the bunker.
“Activating,” said Karter over a loudspeaker mounted on the bunker.
Before anyone could voice concerns about why he had seen fit to hide within the shelter and leave them outside, the tiny form of the pipe bomb released, dropping into the plasma. A moment passed, and then a massive lance of light burst out of the top of the plasma ball, curling into the sky like a silk ribbon drawn into a tornado. As quickly as it came, it was gone, but the effect it left in its wake was undeniable. Instantly, each of the devices and vehicles filling the field between the bunker and the test site failed simultaneously. Hovering devices dropped to the ground. Some of the less potent gadgets fizzled with pop of electricity, and there was even a scattered spray of sparks from some. Even as far away as they were, the PA speaker made crackling hiss of failure and the hover bus momentarily shuddered.
The door to the bunker clicked open again, and Karter walked out.
“That was a directional emission, pointing straight up. What you witnessed happening to all of this crap in the field was just the collateral damage, so try to picture what it would have done if it was actually aimed at them.”
“Unmistakably impressive,” remarked the spokesman. He withdrew a credit card sized piece of electronics from his pocket. It flickered a few times, but finally activated, displaying a mildly scrambled welcome screen. “The effect was very brief, however. My slidepad is already coming back online.”
“That’s because the fusion reactor was taken out by the blast. Toss something like that into a reactor that can take the hit, or is self-sustaining, and that pulse becomes a continuous broadcast. And it scales linearly with the size of the reaction medium, so you can imagine what it would be like when you try it on the real deal.”
“With any luck, I won’t have to imagine it. How long would this broadcast last?”
“We’ve only ever deployed one of these in the field once. I think it lasted for three months. But that wasn’t anywhere near optimized. It was a rush job. I figure we could get that up to a year pretty easily.
“Excellent. You’ll be coming with me, then. I’ll need you to prepare a production facility so that we can maintain a ready supply,” he said, tapping some commands into his freshly rebooted pad.
“Nope. We do the production here. If you want reproduction rights, we are talking about a much larger fee. So-”
“Multiple unauthorized device deployments detected in and around the facility,” the automated voice announced, “Electromagnetic pulse dev-”
The signal suddenly cut off in a burst of digital distortion. Karter’s hand was already on the grip of a firearm at his belt, but a hypodermic injector was pressed to his neck and he collapsed to the ground.
“Lock coordinates and activate, radius six meters, centered on transmitting position,” ordered the leader into his slidepad as his men gathered up the unconscious inventor and clustered around.
A few moments later there was a flash. When the dust cleared, the men, as well as a hemispherical bowl of rock and soil beneath where they had stood, were gone.